Tourism Talk

Live theater in Surfside Beach shifting strategy

dbryant@thesunnews.comDecember 27, 2012 

The script has changed for The Grand Theatre in Surfside Beach.

The venue, which also doubles as the meeting spot and headquarters for Journey Church, will no longer operate as a live theater with in-house shows as it did for six months until its final show on Thursday. It will instead focus on having more community activities such as youth rallies and family friendly concerts. The church also will continue to have its services and other events there, and members are talking about putting on their own productions.

Operating as one of the Grand Strand’s live show theaters didn’t pan out in part because of the down economy that has visitors cutting back on spending while in town, and a lack of marketing dollars to promote the venue, said Kelly Burton, the theater’s general manager. It was hard to get the word out that the venue was there, she said. The Grand Theatre had joined an already busy lineup of established live theaters along the Grand Strand, including Pirate’s Voyage, The Carolina Opry, Medieval Times, The Palace Theatre and others.

“I think that it can work,” Burton said. “I don’t think it could work in the span of six months …

“Definitely a tough economy. Definitely difficult not having the marketing dollars that other attractions have. … Not sure that model will work for us right now.”

The venue off U.S. 17 Business just south of Surfside Drive – which had been Legends in Concert until it moved to Myrtle Beach, and Celebration Music Theatre until it closed – had four in-house shows during its brief stint this year, kicking off with a Hawaiian-themed production dubbed “Aloha Y’all” followed by an illusions show featuring magician Brandon Wagster.

“Dino’s TV Variety Show” and its sister show, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” wrapped up their final shows last week after the producers decided to end both productions, which also have been performed at other local venues.

The Grand Theatre debuted in May, but never had a sellout show, Burton said. The concerts, including those by The Isaacs and Francesca Battistelli, were well attended, she said, but the biggest crowd came out in August for the church’s grand opening event, which drew about 600 people.

Winter rates up over a year ago

Visitors to the Grand Strand this winter will pay a bit more for a place to stay than they did this time last year, continuing the trend from the summer, according to the latest economic forecast.

Average daily rates are up along the Grand Strand this year compared to last year, while average occupancy has stayed about the same, according to Coastal Carolina University.

That is expected to continue during the winter, the slowest time of the year for area resorts and attractions, according to CCU’s economic forecast through February.

Nightly rates will average $61.40 during December, January and February, up from the average $54.60 during the same three months a year ago. That’s expected to boost accommodations tax and Horry County hospitality fee collections.

But average occupancy is about the same for that three-month period as a year ago, 28.8 percent this winter compared with 28.3 percent last winter.

“Everything is kind of sticking with that [trend],” said Rob Salvino, an economist at CCU who put together the forecast. “It has been fairly consistent.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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