MYRTLE BEACH — A Florida-based company’s plan to put carnival rides on the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park site this summer has created more concerns than excitement among neighboring businesses in the Ocean Boulevard area.
While many have longed for development to fill that large, mostly vacant lot in the middle of the city’s amusement hub, they said they aren’t sure this is the right thing for that spot and want to know more details about the plan, which was first pitched to a city committee a week ago.
If the carnival lures more people to the area or adds much-needed kiddie rides, that could be good for all businesses, they said. But the business owners have concerns about how the out-of-town company will operate -- they don’t want visitors to be left with a bad impression -- and if it will simply duplicate what’s already offered by existing businesses.
“People are worried,” said Chris Walker, a business owner along Ocean Boulevard and the president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association who has been polling its members during the past week. “You let somebody come in and cherrypick the good months and everybody else down here has to pay taxes year round and employees year round. I would like to see responsible development. I’m kind of torn...
“Is this the responsible use for the property? While I think there could be some good attached to it, I’m still kind of weighing what I perceive as some negatives. I don’t know if it is a step forward as much as it is a step backwards.”
Lured by the tourist crowds that flock each summer to the Ocean Boulevard area, Strates Shows of Orlando, Fla., wants to set up a summer-long carnival that would include about 16 rides, including eight kiddie rides, four major rides such as the Tilt-a Whirl and four big rides, maybe even a small coaster, said Jay Strates, a third-generation official in the family-owned, 90-year-old company. There also would be games and food.
The carnival aims to open at the beginning of June and run through Labor Day, maybe a bit longer, Strates said, adding that everything would be taken down at the end of the season. Strates -- which provides rides, games and food at fairs and festivals across the country -- wants to operate every summer adjacent to the zipline until landowner Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. decides to move forward on permanent development there.
“It’s a neat little area. You get so much traffic there,” he said, adding that he recently caught up on the history of the Pavilion, which was a downtown landmark for more than half a century until it closed in 2006. “We are working out the details. It is a moving target.”
Approval process changed
The plan continues to evolve. Strates is working through some of the details with B&C to finalize an agreement. Ticket prices haven’t yet been set -- there will be no general admission, but customers can buy individual ride tickets or a wristband for unlimited rides. The carnival’s name also is being worked out and possibly might play off the Pavilion history, Strates said.
Strates presented the carnival idea to the Myrtle Beach Special Events Technical Review Committee a week ago, but the city since decided that the carnival doesn’t need a special event permit. It can go through the usual approval process for any new business because the area already is zoned for the rides and the carnival doesn’t create any additional demands with signage or crowds that warrant a special event permit, city spokesman Mark Kruea said.
That approval process will include a stop at the city’s Community Appearance Board to sign off on restrooms, ticket booths, an office and any other buildings.
“Zoning for that piece of property would allow that activity,” Kruea said.
Too many questions
Some downtown business leaders say they need more details about the rides and games, the company and how the carnival will operate before deciding whether they want it in their neighborhood.
“It could be good, it could be bad, depending on what they do,” said DeAnn Sarver, who owns Boardwalk Coffee House on Ninth Avenue North. “I don’t think we have enough information to make a real assessment about that.”
Some business owners said they would be supportive if the carnival focused on bringing kiddie rides to the area, which they say is needed. But they have concerns about similar rides and food vendors selling cotton candy or funnel cake that some of the permanent, year-round businesses in the area already offer.
Strates said the area gets so many visitors that other ride businesses shouldn’t be affected by the carnival rides coming in.
“You guys get so many people there. There’s plenty of demand,” he said.
Some business owners said they also have concerns about an out-of-town company coming in during the busiest months of the year while the permanent businesses pay taxes and must survive the brutal, slow winter months. And they worry about the carnival company not providing the best customer service then leaving town after the summer, sticking existing businesses with the challenge of overcoming that black eye.
“It could be a scar on this area for a long time,” said Jimmy Waldorf, owner of the Fun Plaza arcade less than a block from the Pavilion site. “It would be nice to have something on that piece of property even temporary but I don’t know about a carnival coming in. There are a lot of concerns.”
Walker and Dave Sebok, executive director of the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Corp., also want more details before forming a final opinion.
“I think there are still some unanswered questions,” Sebok said. “There’s not enough known about the details.”
B&C and Strates say the rides would add to the area.
“Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. is hopeful the carnival will add to the vibrancy of the downtown area,” B&C spokeswoman Lei Gainer said in a written statement, declining to answer specific questions.
Long-term development still in the works
The high-profile Pavilion property has sat mostly empty since the amusement park was torn down after the 2006 summer season, except for the zipline that opened on part of the property last year and temporary uses for festivals or special events.
“We’ve got a big void right in the middle of our neighborhood,” Walker said, adding that it’s a challenge to lure visitors from one side of the vacant property to the other. “It’s a strange thing to see that big empty land in a thriving business community.”
If the carnival plan goes through, it won’t be there permanently. B&C is still working on long-term uses for the Pavilion site, saying that the development will be determined by the market.
Initial redevelopment plans for the property years ago didn’t pan out after questions about the developer’s background emerged. Then came the Great Recession and the ongoing lagging economy.
“While there have been several iterations of plans on the Pavilion property, market conditions will ultimately dictate its use,” Gainer said in the written statement. “The 12-acre site represents a large portion of the downtown area. Burroughs & Chapin is committed to downtown and Myrtle Beach, and so the ultimate use of that land will certainly be one that the entire Myrtle Beach community will be proud of.”
Until that happens, Strates said he’d like the carnival rides to be a regular fixture on that property each summer.
“Hopefully we can come back year after year until the time when something else happens,” he said.
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