Horry County Government will spend the next two months looking for land in the western part of the county to purchase for an equestrian arena and civic center.
County officials on Thursday directed staff to begin searching for 100-150 acres in the area between U.S. 501 and S.C. 22 up to S.C. 22’s intersection with U.S. 701 North. County staffers plan to bring land prices and options back to council in January.
“We’ve got to hitch this mule and start pulling this wagon and get it on down the road,” said Horry County Councilman Al Allen, who added that he wants the county to purchase the land for the project within a year. “We need to get it moving.”
Thursday was the first time a special committee of county leaders met to discuss the proposal, which 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 the cooperative expects to allocate $400,000 per year for the project.
Horry Electric wants the county to build a facility that will be large enough for the cooperative to hold an annual meeting for its members. Horry Electric had used the Myrtle Beach Convention Center for that purpose, but the cost became too great. They then moved to the HTC Center at Coastal Carolina University.
Cooperative leaders maintain they want a site that will not only be available for membership meetings, but one that could be a draw for rodeos, farm equipment shows and other equestrian or agricultural events. They also envision the site being rented by the Shriners, veterans organizations and other groups.
“There’s always a need for things like this,” said Johnny Shelley, the cooperative’s board president.
Although the cooperative will provide money for the project, Shelley stressed that the center needs to generate enough income to cover its expenses.
“It has to support itself,” he said.
During Thursday’s meeting, county leaders described the features that they hope the project will include: trails for horseback riding, removable flooring to allow for a variety of events, and enough land to expand.
However, their initial focus is finding acceptable property.
“Our first goal needs to be to find a place to put it,” county councilman Johnny Vaught said.
Vaught said he hopes the land will be in the S.C. 22 corridor.
“That’s the most geographically desirable location,” he said. “All that access is built in right there.”
One challenge, of course, is constructing a center that will be self-sustaining. County administrator Steve Gosnell suggested that the facility be designed to accommodate as many events as possible.
“That’s going to be the biggest issue,” he said. “How do you pay for it?”