Arts and Innovation District downtown Myrtle Beach

A pair of office cats sit in the window of a shop inside the city’s newly christened Arts and Innovation District in downtown Myrtle Beach. Plans are underway and ordinance language is being tweaked. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Do Dollar General and Starbucks fit in the Arts and Innovation District?

That’s a question city leaders are grappling with as they tweak plans for 56 acres of the downtown area.

Myrtle Beach City Council discussed heights of the buildings that should be allowed in the area known by many as the Superblock but found on a map across from the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion off Main, Oak and Broadway streets in and around 8th and 9th avenues north.

City leaders have focused meetings, plans and commissions on the future of the section that holds about 155 parcels of property.

There has been a master plan that calls for the area to become a live-work type neighborhood similar to the feel of The Market Common but with older buildings that keep the older building look. They have discussed ways to attract entrepreneurs and boutique shops that will be at home beside museums, coffee shops and breweries all the while maintaining an area for people to live, walk and ride bikes.

The area was accepted in the state’s historic district rankings in July and now officials are waiting to hear if it has met federal designation standards later this month.

The city’s planning commission has been tasked with making recommendations on the district including limiting the building height to 60 feet, allowing but not requiring awnings and not requiring parking standards in hopes the market will drive a developer to build a parking deck nearby that has shops on the first floor.

And, to allow for those breweries and other businesses, the commission has recommended lifting the city’s three-year moratorium on bars in the Superblock.

But, for now, many of the buildings are empty while tax credit deadlines approach by the year’s end.

The city’s zoning administrator Kenneth May said if the city lifts a proposed ban on chain stores, it could attract people to the area.

“You have to think people would come down there to a store they’ve heard of over a store they don’t know anything about,” he said.

He added several cities have a Dollar General and Starbucks located within historic districts that meet the appearance guidelines.

“I saw a Dollar General that you wouldn’t know was a Dollar General until you got up on it,” he said describing visiting several areas in the past. “They have to meet the requirements.”

Mayor Brenda Bethune said if the city expects people to live in the area, the residents should have what they need within a certain radius such as a quick trip to a CVS drug store.

“But if we build a place with a Dollar General and that, will we be defeating ourselves?” council member Mary Jeffcoat asked, saying she’s not opposed to allowing chain stores but she is worried about the investment into an area thought to be filled with unique shops and activities.

May said the commission had also discussed not allowing two of the same kind of businesses to be located side-by-side.

“That would mean two restaurants couldn’t be beside each other,” he said. “I’ve come to change my mind on that. I’m hardheaded but not all the time. I think it’s a good idea to let the market decide.”

Still in the works is making any design requirements minimal with a heavy reliance on the city’s Community Appearance Board to decide what should be allowed in the Arts and Innovation District.

The city recently announced it sold 807 North Kings Highway in Nance Plaza to Mashburn Construction for about $160,000, the appraised value of the property. Lee Mashburn said he hopes to have a corporate office in the spot between House Parts LLC and the shuttered Natalia’s Bar and Grill.

Lauren Clever of the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation said the city is moving forward even though it may seem slow.

“We’re doing what we need to do to accomplish what we need to accomplish,” she told city council adding the state Department of Transportation is still on track to realign U.S. 501 from the tangle at Main Street and Kings Highway to 7th Avenue North empting out at Ocean Boulevard.

Clever added the city is holding a Technology Advisory Group meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26, at the Train Depot so people can see what is being done to attract artisans, tech companies and maker communities such as candle makers or software inventors.

The city is also making plans to develop a co-work space at 509 and 511 9th Avenue North. The space is open and allows one-person businesses to rent a spot to conduct business rather than going through the process of renting a store, buying overhead and purchasing office furniture.

During the Tuesday meeting, the city council approved allocating $3,750 to meet a 15% match requirement for a $25,000 grant from the Municipal Association of South Carolina’s Hometown Economic Development.

“The purpose is to drive innovation for the downtown area that supports entrepreneurs while addressing barriers to accessibility, building community, resource sharing and collaboration,” the city’s resolution to allocate the funds state.

Clever said the plans now include an open window so walkers can look in and see people working.

“It’s something that will continue to grow and evolve as we evolve,” she said of the early stages of planning the work space.

Council member Phil Render said he is excited about the growth and concept, but is still hoping for a spreadsheet to show how all of the projects will be paid for — projects such as a children’s museum, a city library and the theater partnership with Coastal Carolina University.

“It’s been two years, planning. We’ve been working on this for two years,” Jeffcoat said of the co-work space and the upcoming meeting of the TAG group. “This is the end of a very long path.”

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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