MYRTLE BEACH — Off-Broadway shows, small symphonies, chorales and dance troupes along the Grand Strand all could be seen in one location if Myrtle Beach voters approve a referendum Tuesday that would allow the city to raise property taxes to pay for the construction of a $10 million performing arts center.
For at least 15 years, people in the arts community have tried to establish a performance venue in Myrtle Beach, and some are afraid that Tuesday’s referendum might be their last hope.
“If [the referendum] doesn’t pass, I think that we’re basically dead in the water,” said Penny Boling, co-chair of the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board. “We believe that this is our last hurrah.”
Even if the voters support building the center, the referendum is not binding so the City Council is not obligated to do anything, city attorney Tom Ellenburg said. But if the city does decide to move forward, it needs the OK from voters to exceed the city’s debt limit, as set by the state.
“There is no obligation whatsoever,” Ellenburg said of the referendum. “At any point in this process you may withdraw [from funding the center]. … The City Council has to pick the right time to go into the market.”
If voters approve the referendum, residents of an owner-occupied residential property would have to pay about $10 more per year on a $100,000 home, according to the referendum.
Owners of second homes, commercial property, automobiles and other taxable properties, such as boats, also would see an increase ranging from $26.25 per $100,000 of assessed manufacturing and utility property to $3 per $20,000 of assessed automobile value.
The proposed 35,000-square-foot venue would be adjacent to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, have an auditorium of 500 to 600 fixed seats, a fully-equipped performance stage, a smaller theater that would have an additional 80 to 120 seats, back-of-the house and support space, professional offices and public pre-function areas. The $10 million would pay for construction as well as architectural and engineering fees.
“The performing arts community would have space in the building for offices and a retail space,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “The idea is that they’ll have a space to call their own. … It will give them a home.”
The performance community is disjointed, Boling said, and in need of a central location for artists. If built, the new venue could hold performances by groups such as the Carolina Master Chorale, the Long Bay Symphony Youth Orchestra and dance troupes, she said.
“There’s been no one venue that [artists] can all use and be a part of,” Boling said. “To have a real theater with a real orchestra pit and a real stage … would benefit everyone.”
Carolyn Pittman, executive director of the Long Bay Symphony, said Myrtle Beach needs the performing arts center to compete with other cities and tourist destinations that offer cultural experiences.
“It puts us in a better light in visitors’ eyes,” she said. “It makes us seem more well-rounded. It’s not just the beach. It’s not just golf.”
Pittman said the Long Bay Symphony Youth Orchestra and chamber orchestra would be able to hold concerts at the performance venue were it to be built. Those groups have between 25 and 60 members. The full symphony has between 70 and 90 members, she said.
“We would love to be able to use it for all of our performances,” Pittman said, adding that the venue would not hold the group’s larger performances – where 1,600 to 1,700 tickets are sold.
The Long Bay Symphony holds performances at the Myrtle Beach High School Music and Arts Center, which seats 1,900.
The performing arts center has been a hope for the arts community for at least 15 years, beginning shortly before the city’s purchase of the former Rivoli Theatre in 1999 with the thought that it would be home of the facility.
However, the building needed so many repairs – including rectifying an asbestos problem – the arts board and the city decided it would be cheaper to build a new facility at the convention center. The theater now is leased from the city and being renovated by Christian ministry Ground Zero.
To build a new facility, the city had earmarked about $7.5 million in funding through the 2008-2009 Capital Improvement Plan budget, but those funds ended up being used on other projects, said Myrtle Beach budget director Michael Shelton. The arts community was asked to raise an additional $2.5 million to pay for the construction.
“The project never ripened in time before other projects came up,” Shelton said.
When the arts community realized that it wouldn’t be able to raise the $2.5 million it was being asked to contribute, it asked the City Council to consider funding the property completely.
“All performing arts facilities [in other cities] were built on taxation,” Boling said.
The council was required to ask residents through a referendum if they would support the facility by allowing the city to increase property taxes to fund the purchase of $10 million in general obligation bonds, taking Myrtle Beach past the municipal debt limit allowed by state law, Shelton said. The city currently has about $25.2 million in outstanding debt and by law only can issue a total of $26.9 million.
Jamie Broadhurst, who is on the performing arts center board, said the group is “firmly convinced” that the referendum will pass on Tuesday.
Kruea said that if the referendum passes, the City Council could agree to issue the funds as soon as next year’s budget, which begins July 1.
“Council will take the results of the voting into consideration and look at the economic conditions at that time and make an informed decision,” Kruea said.
Broadhurst said he believes the City Council would agree to fund the center if the voters pass the referendum.
“I would hope the City Council takes it as a sign that this is a project to move forward with,” he said. “Most anything for the arts, unfortunately, is difficult [to gain financial support for]. It’s easier for a football field to be built than it is for a performance venue. And it almost always requires public money.”
The last time the city asked residents if they supported a tax increase was in 2001 when voters approved the referendum to fund $9 million for city recreation and more than $25 million for stormwater drainage, Kruea said. Both items passed easily.
Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, at which point Myrtle Beach residents also will select a mayor and three councilmen. This is the first city election that voters will have to show photo identification to cast their ballot, as required by state law.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.