Myrtle Beach officials hope development happens soon on former Pavilion, mall sites

mprabhu@thesunnews.comMarch 29, 2014 

Anyone driving down Kings Highway in the heart of Myrtle Beach cruise by two large pieces of land that have been vacant since 2006 – what some have referred to as “untapped potential.”

The former Myrtle Beach Pavilion, an amusement park between Kings Highway and the ocean from Eighth and Ninth avenues North, and the former Myrtle Square Mall, between Kings Highway and Oak Street from 21st Avenue North to 27th Avenue North, make up nearly 60 acres of vacant land in the heart of Myrtle Beach.

“Clearly I think about it – in the center of Myrtle Beach, which is in the center of the Grand Strand, which is in the center of Horry County – to have these two large, vacant tracts,” Myrtle Beach City Councilman Wayne Gray said.

Seen as a blemish on the city, some Myrtle Beach officials, residents and tourists say they would like to see permanent development on the large pieces of land owned by Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. that now only see small bursts of action when special events use them. Burroughs & Chapin declined to comment for this story, including answering questions about any future development on the properties and the vacant lots’ impact on the community.

Myrtle Beach Planning Department Director Jack Walker said having vacant land in a city is not an unusual thing, though it could have more of an impact in a tourist town.

“You have those [empty lots] in every city,” Walker said. “But you don’t want to see that when you’re on vacation. That’s been kind of a dark spot. As a local you kind of get used to it, but when you come here the first time … it makes you question how healthy the economy may be. That’s also how some developers look at it.”

Andrea Robinson of Chicago, who was visiting Myrtle Beach for the first time, said Thursday that seeing the vacant parking lot where Myrtle Square Mall once was did not give her a negative impression of the city as much as it was a confusing sight to see.

“It’s just a big old empty lot,” Robinson said. “When I saw it, I just said, ‘what is this?’ … It just looks strange. It looks out of place to be so empty. They need to put something there.”

Impact on surrounding businesses

Burroughs & Chapin is a privately owned company and can choose to develop on the pieces of land – about 11 acres at the former Pavilion site and about 45 acres at the former mall site – whenever it determines the time is right.

Many said there were plans and ideas for development on those tracts until the Great Recession hit in 2008, which stopped or slowed many planned projects across the country.

Yoav Wachsman, an assistant professor of economics at Coastal Carolina University, said it is a bit unusual for large, highly visible pieces of land to remain vacant for so long, but said Burroughs & Chapin tends to have a long-term strategy of sitting on land until the value increases.

“Maybe that’s economically beneficial in the end [for the families],” he said. “The mall [site] creates a sense of cheapness that I’m sure drives down nearby property values.”

Rune Grinna, owner of La Plage Swimwear, said his business has slightly decreased each year since Myrtle Square Mall closed. His store is across Kings Highway from the former mall.

“The mall customer is definitely our customer so if there was a mall across the street from us, obviously there would be more shoppers in the area,” he said. “Now we have to bring them to us, where before it was not so much.

“Because, obviously, if you have 100 businesses in the mall that all advertise, that helps us. To me [developing the area is] something that they’ve talked about doing for years and years. Now that the economy has come back around I don’t see why they haven’t done something.”

Chris Walker, who owns businesses on Ocean Boulevard and is president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, said he thinks B&C needs to do more to keep the mall property looking better. Chris Walker and Jack Walker are not related.

“If I were one of those businesses on the east side of [the property] I’d be really unhappy with it,” he said. “The dirt is falling into the sidewalk, the pavement is cracked and weeds are coming through it. The lights are rusted and don’t work.”

Chris Walker said he thinks Burroughs & Chapin has a responsibility to the city and the nearby businesses to develop something on the mall property.

“I think B&C does a disservice to the community by leaving it in disrepair,” Chris Walker said. “It makes it look like they don’t care about the community. And it’s unfortunate. Because I know they do love the community.”

He also said that the lack of development on the Pavilion property is hurting the oceanfront businesses that may not have benefitted from the construction of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade in 2010. The city spent about $6 million to construct the 1.2-mile boardwalk from First Avenue North to 14th Avenue North.

“The Pavilion being empty keeps development from reaching down to Eighth and Seventh Avenue and further south,” Chris Walker said.

‘Wait and see’

Jack Walker said no one seems to lead when it comes to development in the Myrtle Beach area anymore.

Burroughs & Chapin was instrumental in the development of Myrtle Beach, purchasing much of the land that would become the city in 1881. Myrtle Beach was charted in 1928. The company has developed multiple properties throughout the Grand Strand over the years including Coastal Grand mall and Broadway at the Beach, as well as Grande Dunes, which it sold late last year.

“Burroughs & Chapin used to be leaders in development,” Jack Walker said. “Now they seem to take the approach of waiting to see what others do and what works.”

In a November 2012 meeting of stakeholders discussing the Myrtle Beach boardwalk’s development and future, Steve Warner, senior vice president of capital strategies and investments for B&C, said there were no plans to develop on the former Pavilion property for at least a few years.

He added that the company is looking to take 2.2 acres closest to the ocean and developing some type of attraction, but shared no details other than knowing the company is looking at putting something there.

“We’ll probably build something on the entertainment side,” Warner said.

Burroughs & Chapin has declined to comment on development on the Pavilion property since that meeting.

Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace said he was not aware of any plans in the works on either property.

“They have not talked about what they have planned, at least not with me,” Wallace said. “Especially with the mall site, I’m not sure that they have plans at all. We haven’t heard anything. … We’re just kind of waiting to do what they do.”

Not always vacant

Downtown Redevelopment Corp. Executive Director David Sebok said the Pavilion site is home to several special events throughout the year, making it seem less vacant.

The DRC was created by the city to “facilitate the revitalization of downtown Myrtle Beach,” according to the group’s website. The group focuses on redevelopment from Sixth Avenue South to 16th Avenue North, from the Atlantic Ocean to Oak Street and Broadway Street, which includes the former Pavilion area.

“The Pavilion is not really empty anymore,” Sebok said. “It does get used for a growing list of special events. There is the zip line that adds light and energy.”

Adrenaline Adventures Zip Line opened on part of the site in 2012.

Wachsman also said he doesn’t think of the Pavilion lot as being vacant.

“The old Pavilion was handled quite well,” he said. “It’s not a visually unappealing. … Myrtle Square Mall is more of an issue. Even if they created a park in the short term. They could break down the concrete and let the grass grow.”

In the eight years since the mall was demolished, the site has hosted a number of special events. Annually, the parking lot is the home of the Cole Bros. Circus and the Pee Dee Street Rodders “Run to the Sun” car show, which was held last weekend.

Untapped potential

Wachsman said the first thing he thinks of when considering the empty lots is the untapped potential of the sites.

“At the former Myrtle Square Mall site there could be an expansion of the convention center or conference hall,” he said. “The Pavilion is prime property for a resort or a conference center.”

Everyone asked about developing on either piece of land offered a number of options for what should be built, with most suggesting multi-use properties that offer a mix of retail, entertainment, dining and either hotel or residential living space.

“What I’d like to see [at the Pavilion site] is an exciting and vibrant development that creates jobs and encourages development around it as well,” Gray said.

Jack Walker said closing the Pavilion created an opportunity to develop something that could be offered year-round.

“The Pavilion closed not long after Labor Day and it didn’t open until sometime between Easter and Memorial Day,” Jack Walker said. “We had this dark hole in the city when it closed down [for the season] so the businesses in that area also lost business during the off season.”

But Chris Walker said he thinks there still is a market to recreate something similar to the seasonal Pavilion attraction.

“I still feel like what they had was great,” he said. “In the next incarnation they could have lodging in a tower with retail and entertainment underneath. … I think what it was is what we need.”

On the Myrtle Square Mall site, Gray said he thinks the property is so large – at about 45acres – it could hold a number of things.

“It could be a mixed-use site that could incorporate a bit of everything,” he said. “Lodging, dining, office space, residential living … and I hope that somewhere in the 45 to 50 acres will be some public space that will serve whatever becomes of that space and also serves the public.

“I can see that site becoming a center of everything,” Gray said.

‘800-pound gorilla’

While many people who spoke with The Sun News offered slightly different versions of what could be developed on the two vacant properties, all said they hoped development would happen soon.

“From a redevelopment perspective, the sooner it happens, the better, because it will be a catalyst to nearby properties and their redevelopment,” Sebok said.

Gray also said he thinks development, specifically at the former Pavilion site, could improve the entire downtown area.

“I believe whatever happens at the Pavilion site will ripple south … possibly all the way to Family Kingdom [at Third Avenue South],” he said. “And it will ripple north possibly all the way to mall site.”

Whatever is done, he said, leaving those large properties vacant has an impact on the city.

“They’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.

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