Horry County Administrator Steve Gosnell received a green light Tuesday to begin looking at options for building a multi-use arena and meeting center in the S.C. 22 corridor.
The project, which is still in its infancy, would be funded with the economic development money the county receives from Horry Electric Cooperative. So far, the county has banked $1.2 million and expects to get $400,000 per year from the cooperative.
“Let’s pursue it,” councilman Bill Howard said of the arena. “Let’s find a location. Let’s find out what we can do to get the ball rolling. We should have done this, what, three, four, five years ago and we would have already been probably under construction.”
Council members said they discussed the idea years ago but the county administration at that time didn’t support it. Now that the county is hiring a new administrator — the council is in contract negotiations with Gosnell — the project is again being considered.
“Last year I was briefed on this project and I thought it was a no-brainer,” council chairman Johnny Gardner said. “I thought we should move forward as soon as possible, and I was told point blank that it would never happen. … I think it’s going to happen.”
Horry Electric board members met with the council’s infrastructure and regulation committee on Tuesday morning and presented the council with several options. They said the facility would help the cooperative by providing a place for its members to hold their annual meeting and occasional training sessions. They envision the site serving the same purpose for other utilities such as Grand Strand Water and Sewer Authority and Horry Telephone. But they also see the property being rented out for private events, such as farm shows, equestrian competitions, rodeos and even sports tournaments.
“It’s not just a free thing,” Horry Electric Board President Johnny Shelley said. “It needs to be a business thing, I think, because it could make some money.”
County councilman Johnny Vaught stressed the importance of building the complex, which could seat at least 3,000, near S.C. 22.
“The property is cheaper out there,” he said. “We could get more acreage for less money. We could have people have access to the beach when they come in for events. We’re talking about huge volleyball tournaments, all kinds of different things, like farm implement shows. There’s just any number of events that could be held at a place like this.”
Horry Electric board members said having a rural location is important. They would like to see the facility spur business growth in central Horry.
“That was one of our main objectives, to get it out into the middle part of the county,” said Ronald Floyd, a cooperative leader from Green Sea. “The beach is crowded. … We just felt like that it would benefit not only Horry County, but it would benefit Loris and Conway and Aynor to get it back out in this area.”
Councilman Danny Hardee said that if the county can purchase enough land he would like to see a police training area on the site, including a shooting range and driving course.
“It would just be a dual-purpose type of building and facility,” he said.
Gosnell told councilmen and board members that he would begin researching possible sites and drafting a plan for what this type of facility would look like. He expects to present council with some options for the location and scope of the project in September.