Myrtle Beach is turning to public-private partnerships to draw more locals downtown.
Currently, commercial activity in the district is concentrated along the tourist-heavy beachfront, while locals largely flock to the northern and southern parts of the city.
"If you look at the north end of town and the south end of town, there’s obviously been more investment," said Lauren Clever, director of the city’s Downtown Development Office. “The central section has not had that investment. Yes, you’ve had the oceanfront and tourism, but we can begin to diversify.”
The city has commissioned a market feasibility study to demonstrate the viability of business investment in the area.
“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to build, which is why we’re going to begin with a market study,” said Clever, adding that the city’s aiming to appeal to a diverse mix of demographics and incomes.
The city is also working with One Grand Strand, a consortium of downtown businesses and placeholders that will advise the city on the revitalization effort.
Michael Clayton, CEO of One Grand Stand, said the 18-member board will consist of 11 community and business representatives and three leaders of non-governmental organizations.
Additionally, city council, the mayor and the city manager will each appoint one member, as will Horry County.
“The more commercial activity we can attract downtown, the more attractive it will be to live,” said Clayton, adding that investments in infrastructure will likely be necessary. “You want more people to live downtown, but to do that people need to be able to walk to the grocery stores and activities.”
In addition to restaurants and commerce, Clayton said new industry will likely include technology and healthcare.
Asked about the potential for rising rents and consumer costs, Clever acknowledged both were likely but said the city would work to ensure existing residents are included in the expansion.
“Naturally when you add positive things to an area that has been vacant for decades you’re going to start to see the value of things increase,” she said. But “it has the ability to be very diverse.”
“We talk about how to keep the younger generations here since they often grow up here, get an education, then go somewhere else,” she continued. “You also have the in-between folks, families, young professionals that we want to appeal to."
Clayton said that OGS is “working incredibly hard on the gentrification issue.”
“We are dedicated to ensuring the end product is equitable and inclusive as well as commercially successful,” he said. “We are working closely with the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program and Habitat for Humanity to make sure that the existing businesses have support to succeed and to the extent possible residents are not displaced, but can take advantage of funding to improve homes and businesses.”