Crews have started clearing out the two-tower Golden Villa hotel in downtown Myrtle Beach, which will be demolished next week, to make way for a new Ferris wheel.
Al Mers, a partner in Pacific Development, the St. Louis-based company that's bringing the 187-foot-tall SkyWheel to downtown Myrtle Beach, said work is moving ahead as crews remove asbestos from the hotel in preparation for its demolition.
The Golden Villa has stood in downtown Myrtle Beach for many years, becoming a regular vacation spot for families returning to the Grand Strand. On some travel websites, vacationers have written comments asking that the hotel not close, offering their fond memories of staying there as children or with their own children.
"There's something to be said for the older places remaining, but it's also in themiddle of the entertainment district," said Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace. "This is an opportunity to bring a fun, new attraction to downtown."
The demolition is scheduled to begin Monday or Tuesday, and Mers said the lot at 1106 N. Ocean Blvd. should be flat by about Oct. 22.
"The first thing people will see going up are the piers," he said. Because the wheel and the adjoining building are being built in the hurricane surge zone, they must be constructed on a deck that will sit 20 feet above sea level - 3 to 4 feet above the ground on the lot.
Piers to hold the wheel's steel frame will sink 30 feet deep, Mers said.
Pacific Development plans to place a camera atop the Slingshot, a thrill ride across the street, to shoot time-lapse photos of the hotel demolition and the wheel complex's construction to produce a 12-minute video that will show people the process.
The wheel is part of the ever-changing face of downtown Myrtle Beach.
Wallace said he remembers the 1970s when downtown's then-tallest feature, the Astro Needle, was in operation. It was a 200-foot attraction at the corner of Eighth Avenue North and Chester Street - an intersection that doesn't even exist anymore.
"When I was a little kid, it was really a neat ride. I was so small, and it seemed huge," Wallace said. "You got in this UFO-like car and it took you up to the top and spun you around, and then brought you back down."
But the needle, which opened in 1970, was removed after Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. bought the site and expanded The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park to Kings Highway.
Wallace said he's looking forward to the new SkyWheel and the views people will have from the gondolas.
When the SkyWheel is finished, it will be one of the downtown district's tallest structures. The height limit is 240 feet, and there are nine resort towers that are between 20 and 23 stories, said Fire Marshal Bruce Arnell, including the Ocean Forest Plaza, the Carolina Grand and the Grand Atlantic.
The Slingshot frame is about 170 feet tall and stands on a small hill, and when the SkyWheel is finished, it should be about 200 feet tall.
The wheel is scheduled to open in the first week of May.
"It's like putting a puzzle together," said Pacific Development partner Todd Schneider.
The steel frame is being constructed in pieces outside St. Louis, and the "ballooned-out-square" gondolas that will carry riders are being crafted in Switzerland, Mers said.
"They are like what you'd see on a ski lift," he said. "They are the latest upgrade - the fourth generation."
Each gondola is temperature controlled, and because they are clear from floor to ceiling, each will have a slight tint to help keep it cool in the summer and make scenery watching more comfortable.
Once the lot is cleared and prepared, about "50 truck loads" of steel will arrive and be stored in Myrtle Beach, delivered to the site as needed. Mers said the A-frame could be here by December.
Mers said the project, while not that big by construction standards, is creating local jobs. Rhino Demolition-Environmental from Little River is removing the asbestos, and Thompkins & Associates heavy construction company will demolish the hotel.
As that work goes on, Mers said, other details must be finalized, including what size motors to use for heating and cooling. Pacific Development has one more meeting with the Myrtle Beach Community Appearance Board, likely later this month, and all the pre-construction requirements will be filled, Mers said.
"So far, everyone has liked the design," he said. "But we can't finish the plans until all those little details are settled."
Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.