A major interchange in Carolina Forest, a rural civic center in western Horry County, a boardwalk in Little River and beach parking improvements in Garden City would all be paid for under an infrastructure plan approved by Horry County Council this week.
County officials on Tuesday voted to transfer nearly $26.2 million in hospitality fee collections to a new series of infrastructure projects. County officials plan to bond the most expensive projects and use some recurring hospitality fee money — about $5 million per year — to pay off the debt.
“It’s just huge,” councilman Tyler Servant said. “It’s really three-fold. You’ve got the money recurring to pay it off. Interest rates are lower than they ever have been … and three, the residents of Horry County get to experience these projects immediately. It fills a void. … We’re not having to wait 30 or 40 years to be able to do these really necessary projects. And that’s the neat thing about it. It’s really just a unique time right now.”
The money comes from the 1.5% hospitality fee that the county collects on restaurant meals, hotel stays and admission tickets sold in the unincorporated areas. County officials now have access to that revenue stream after settling a lawsuit with the city of Myrtle Beach in April. Local cities keep the hospitality fees collected in their borders.
County officials are required to spend hospitality dollars on projects and services that promote tourism. They plan to spend about one-third of the recurring hospitality money on public safety personnel (about 65 positions are funded in the latest budget) and another third can go toward hospitality-related projects, including infrastructure.
The most expensive item on the new $167 million plan is the Augusta Plantation Drive interchange, which is projected to cost $75 million. The interchange would connect Revolutionary War Way, Augusta Plantation Drive and S.C. 31. Officials said the project would provide a relief valve for traffic on U.S. 501 and Carolina Forest Boulevard. They purchased the right of way for the project in 2019 and already have a conceptual plan for it.
County officials have also said that interchange would provide additional public safety access for Carolina Forest, a growing residential community of about 40,000 people. They expect the project could break ground within three years. That’s much quicker than if they waited to include the interchange in RIDE IV, the county’s next penny sales tax program for road building, which could be a decade away.
“We’re going to get that road done without a RIDE program,” said Horry County Councilman Dennis DiSabato, who lives in Carolina Forest. “That’s going to make a lot of people in Carolina Forest happy.”
Along with Augusta Plantation, county officials plan to use some of the hospitality money to build the first phase of a rural civic center ($25 million), Little River waterfront enhancements ($7.8 million), a recreation center ($7.4 million) and to make improvements to Atlantic Avenue and Waccamaw Drive ($46 million). There are also plans for improvements to intersections, the James Frazier Community Center and Socastee recreation, but no budget has been set for those projects.
Although the county is funding some long-anticipated projects, others that could have been covered with this money are being delayed. Those include a new police firing range, an operations and maintenance building for the Coast RTA bus service and some road resurfacing.