With so many puzzle pieces, moving parts and no soothsayers in sight, Myrtle Beach leaders inch forward with the downtown master plan.
The pieces are the parts of the city its leaders hope to grow as they invite businesses, visitors and residents. The moving parts are the tax credits and incentives making it tempting for developers to invest in what are empty buildings as they envision the potential for future growth.
But, uncertain of the cost of the entire plan, city leaders are chomping off a chunk by agreeing to fund part of the first step — ripping up old water lines, demolishing an old theater and paying professional planners to map out more steps in the plan.
The idea is to lace together city offices, a library, a museum and galleries, dining, retail and a city square that is thriving with locals and visitors in a downtown district.
A part of the first step will likely be accomplished soon as city leaders point to successes with the opening of Mashburn Construction in the Arts and Innovation District. It’s located next to what will be the Grand Strand Brewing Company in an old bingo hall. Additionally, the city is using some of its buildings to make a co-work spot that will include start-up businesses and entrepreneurs in a shared space. It will be offered at a low rent to act as an incubator for the startups.
And the finish date for the rest of the thumb-thick master plan document?
“It could be 20 years, we just don’t know, but getting started on the 9th Avenue part is crucial,” said Lauren Clever of the city’s downtown development office.
The Arts and Innovation District was formerly known as the Superblock. It sits across Kings Highway with Nance Plaza on the front and Oak Street back to the Train Depot on the rear. It’s hemmed in by Main and Broadway streets in and around 8th and 9th avenues north. It has been the center of master plan city leaders adopted in 2019. City leaders have argued if the city is to grow, it cannot sit and wait for investors to show up with deep pockets. The argument that the city needs to be the first investor to spark other development has been repeated at numerous city council meetings.
In the past week, an action plan for the master plan was endorsed by the city’s planning commission and city council.
The city council passed the first reading to spend more than $7 million with the same amount in funding lined up leaving no direct impact on the budget or taxpayers. A city ordinance must pass two readings to go into effect.
The expenses include demolishing the Main Street theater that is part of the partnership with Coastal Carolina University, renovating several city-owned 9th Avenue North buildings using federal tax credits, ripping out water and sewer lines dating back to 1938 and repaving the interior parking lot behind the brewery site.
The costs will be offset by the Santee Cooper franchise fund earmarked for installing power lines underground and grant funding.
Left in the murky unknown funding land is which buildings the city will sell, what the price will be, if there are sponsorship opportunities for the renovations and how much tax credit can be applied to the renovations.
City Manager John Pedersen has said anyone interested in buying property in the district can contact him directly. He said city staff will evaluate the offer to see if it fits into the city’s plans for the district. He said the city is not required to bid out the property for sale nor use a realtor.
The master plan calls for sweeping improvements in the oceanfront district, the Kings Highway business district and the arts district.
Clever has said there are 18 buildings in the district that qualify for the historic designation and eight that do not qualify.
The 51-page advanced plan includes several details for the arts district including the state project to straighten out U.S. 501. The start date for that work has been bumped up a year to 2022.
Additionally, the plan includes a drawing of Ocean Boulevard being closed to vehicle traffic, looping up into 9th Avenue North and slicing across the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion site on what had been the footprint of Chester Street then looping on to 8th Avenue North before rejoining the boulevard.
The city had closed a section of Chester Street in the early 1990s when Burroughs & Chapin expanded the pavilion amusement area. The Pavilion closed in 2006 with Burroughs & Chapin retaining ownership of the block. The company rented out the north section of the block to Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures.
Mark Kruea, city spokesman, said the city does not receive money for the street being closed and the zipline business has always been seen as a temporary use by Burroughs & Chapin.
While the $7 million covers phase 1A of the action plan, there’s other sections listed without price tags or completion dates.
Phase 1B includes roadway improvements on Oak and 9th Avenue North with pedestrian friendly crossings, the demolition of a section of Broadway Street, movement on a municipal library, children’s museum and making upper level residential or office spaces.
Other phases include a new law enforcement center, a new city office building, additions to city hall and realigning Jackson Street for future connection across Mr. Joe White Avenue.
The opening map of the arts district includes a key since many of the buildings are not there or unrecognizable.
For instance, the Ted C. Collins Law Enforcement Center currently sits on the north corner of Joe White and Oak Street. The mauve map at the front of the action plan indicates the building is residential with the law enforcement center moved to the southeast corner where Myrtle’s Market sits.