Cost rises on Myrtle Beach indoor sports complex as construction starts

dbryant@thesunnews.comFebruary 23, 2014 

The cost of the planned indoor sports center in Myrtle Beach has swelled by more than $1 million as construction is set to start this week.

An additional 500 parking spaces, more roads and driveways and added equipment for the fire system kicked up the cost of the Myrtle Beach Sports Center to $13.8 million from an original estimate of $12.4 million, city spokesman Mark Kruea said. The city issued the bonds for the construction of the center, as well as refinanced existing debt, on Feb. 11.

Hospitality fee revenues and possibly some revenue from the 1 percent sales tax for tourism in Myrtle Beach – a portion of which goes for tourism development, but most of it earmarked for tourism promotion – is expected to cover the debt to build the 100,000-square-foot center behind the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The new sports center aims to open in February 2015.

“The increase [in construction cost] is largely due to additional site work,” Kruea said.

Crews with Dargan Construction of Myrtle Beach are set to start construction on the building Monday. During the fall, crews cleared the six acres behind the convention center, and work on the parking is underway and expected to be done in mid-March.

The city wants the center to help grow its sports tourism business by catering to tournament-style events, such as volleyball and basketball tournaments and cheerleading competitions.

Many of those types of events already take place at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Some of them might expand to use the new sports center in addition to the convention center, officials said. Other sports events already in the convention center might move to the sports center, freeing up space in the convention center for new business such as trade shows and conventions.

“We don’t want to give up business we have just to put business over there, unless it is something that will benefit us,” said Paul Edwards, director of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

About 20 events are on a list to use the indoor sports center between March 2015 and August 2015, Kruea said, though he declined to name them because contracts haven’t yet been signed and he said it might tip off other cities to go after that business. Three of those events already use the Myrtle Beach Convention Center: a volleyball tournament in June, a cheerleading competition in March and a dance competition in July.

Sports Facilities Advisory, a Florida-based firm that will manage the center, said the number of potential groups had grown to 23 by late last week; most of them are youth and amateur volleyball and basketball tournaments, SFA’s Evan Eleff said.

“We are well ahead of pace,” he said. “We’ve got interest from a number of events rights holders.”

But not every sporting event will fit best in the sports center. For example, the popular Beach Ball Classic high school basketball tournament needs the seating for spectators available in the larger convention center space, Edwards said, though practices or other events connected to Beach Ball could find the sports center useful.

The sports center will be smaller than the convention center -- it will have roughly half the seats that the 3,000-seat convention center does – and be built to cater to tournament play, with hardwood floors that can be used as eight basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts, or for other sports. There also will be a cafe and a retail area and an entertainment zone featuring a climbing wall.

“The sports center is not an arena,” Kruea said. “It is designated for tournament play, specifically sports tournament play. This will be built specifically for this audience.”

Eleff said SFA will work with the convention center staff to make the most of the events and available space.

“We don’t want to be in competition with convention center space,” he said.

SFA will work with the city and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to find events to fill the sports center. SFA plans to roll out the national marketing for the center in late March at the National Association of Sports Commissioners conference, which attracts event organizers and others in the sports tourism industry.

“We’ll go after gymnastics, wrestling, certainly cheerleading and dance, twirling,” Eleff said of some of the events besides basketball and volleyball that could take place at the indoor sports center.

Eleff said Myrtle Beach’s biggest competition in the Southeast for these kinds of events are the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, Va., and a couple of others in Georgia. But he said Myrtle Beach has an edge because it will have eight courts under one roof as well as the lure of a vacation destination.

The indoor sports center will be the second major sports complex to open along the Grand Strand in two years with the goal of luring more visitors here through tournaments. The North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex is scheduled to open next month, with the outdoor complex scheduled to host baseball, soccer and even a Quidditch tournament this year.

Officials say sports tourism is growing nationwide, and the new complexes should help the Grand Strand become a bigger player. Myrtle Beach’s indoor sports center is expected to generate $6.9 million in visitor spending during its first year; about $28.4 million annually by its fifth year, according to the chamber.

“People travel with their families to play sports,” Kruea said. “Myrtle Beach has the other amenities that traveling groups want. This is kind of the ideal market for a facility like this.”

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

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