Mustard Seed building

This Downtown Conway building that houses the Mustard Seed retail business on the ground floor has Conway City Council considering short-term rentals in Downtown Conway.

Conway native Robert Lewis hopes to convert a building he owns in Downtown Conway into a facility for short-term rentals.

Conway’s Deputy City Administrator/Planning and Development Director Mary Catherine Hyman introduced the idea to Conway City Council Monday when members took it as information only.

Lewis said his company recently opened a similar project in Myrtle Beach, but that one is larger than what they’re planning for Conway.

The short-term rental units will be on the second and third floors above the Mustard Seed retail business at the corner of Third Avenue and Laurel Street.

“They’re excited,” Lewis said of the Mustard Seed occupants. ”They’re excited that the building is really going to stand out in Downtown Conway. I don’t think there’s going to be anything like it.”

Lewis said the trend in rentals is moving away from full-service hotels and motels to these short-term rentals.

“So Conway really doesn’t have a downtown motel other than the Cypress Inn and so we just felt like it was a good time to do that, so people can rent for two nights or two weeks or a month and a half if they went to. It’s been done in a lot of other places,” he said, adding that the Myrtle Beach building opened March 3 and has already drawn a tremendous response.

One of the benefits of the short-term rentals is that all of the tasks associated with a rental can be completed on a computer or IPhone, according to Lewis. The computer gives the renter a code to use to get into his unit, and each renter gets a different code.

The plan as it stands now is for one unit on the ground floor to follow guidelines set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He believes they will have one, two-bedroom model; four, one-bedroom models; and three studio models that will have one room, a bed and a little kitchenette. The others have full kitchens, sitting areas and a bedroom or two. There will be an elevator for second and third-floor guests.

Hyman points out that short-term rentals do not have lobbies or registration desks. Conway’s Unified Development Ordinance allows hotels and motels and multifamily units, but short-term rentals aren’t in the ordinance, so some provisions will have to be made for them. Also, The City of Conway’s Waccamaw Riverfront District right now requires 75 percent of the downtown to be something other than residential, she said.

Lewis says they are far along with their planning and hope to be in construction by the end of May. After that it will take six to eight months to complete the renovations.

Lewis, who lives now in Columbia, says there are many advantages to remodeling an historic building, which this is.

There are incentives for working on a building that’s been two-thirds empty for five years. They plan to spend more than $1 million on the substantial renovation, but won’t have to pay increased taxes. After the money is spent, owners will continue to pay their taxes based on the old assessed value of the building.

Lewis said he’s owned the building for 12 years, but it wasn’t the right time for renovations before now.

“The right time is now.,” he said.

Because the building is classified as historic, the renovators must have their plans approved by the S.C. Department of Archives and History, the U.S. National Park Service, the Horry County Historic Preservation Commission and the Conway Community Appearance Board.

Although the building’s contractor will be the Mashburn Construction with offices in Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Charleston, all of the subcontractors will be local, according to Lewis.

When renters leave, a janitorial company will come in and clean for the next renters.

Lewis said the renovations may, at times, be disruptive to the operation of the Mustard Seed, forcing them to close temporarily.

Referring to the Conway short-term rental plan, he said, ”We felt like that market is good. There are more and more students at Coastal and you know parents are coming for Coastal Carolina baseball and football, he said.

Also, he said, there are more potential guests who are doing business with Horry County who need a place to stay a couple of nights or a couple of weeks, and they think the new facility will meet that demand, he said.

A city-crafted document distributed to council members before Monday’s meeting says these short-term rentals are more affordable than hotel/motel rooms and offer the added attraction of Downtown Conway and the trends appear that these facilities will become valuable commodities.

The city’s proposed ordinance permits commercial short-term rentals, with conditions, in the Central Business District, Core Commercial and Waccamaw Riverfront District. Rentals will be allowed for no more than four unrelated people for not more than 90 consecutive days. The proposed ordinance also allows for new construction of these units meeting the Historic Design Review Districts Community Appearance Guidelines.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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