Residents and downtown businesspeople who nearly filled Conway’s City Council chambers Tuesday morning weren’t there so much to get information as they were to give advice.
“I think we’ve got to focus on the uniqueness of Conway,’ said Larry Biddle, president of Jerry Cox Co., the Burroughs Company offshoot that may be the largest downtown property owner.
Markets such as boaters, theater goers, Gullah explorers and museum lovers are some that consultants looking at retail business possibilities and the feasibility of a downtown hotel should include in their research, Biddle and others said.
“We have a lot to do here,” sad Jody Nyers, who vacationed in Myrtle Beach for 30 years and discovered Conway after she moved nearby three years ago.
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She and her husband still have their condominium in Myrtle Beach, but the home they bought is in an area residents and others call UCLA – Upper Conway Lower Aynor.
The studies that have been commissioned by the city are to first, determine if it’s feasible to build a hotel in downtown Conway, and second, identify business opportunities both downtown and elsewhere and suggest strategies to get more people to go there for shopping and leisure.
The city is paying $22,500 plus a maximum of 10 percent more for expenses for the two studies, and it should know in two weeks if a downtown hotel could make money and later how to attract more businesses and visitors.
If downtown hotel construction makes sense, said Scott Smith of PKF Consulting in Atlanta, the firm will then work with Conway to refine the idea and find someone who wants to build it.
But, Smith cautioned, “We say no as much as we say yes to a project.”
PKF is known for hotel feasibility studies, and Smith said often the work is commissioned by banks that want to know if they should lend the money for one project or another.
“In today’s environment, it’s very difficult to get financing,” he said.
Smith said the firm finds hotel construction feasible in 30 percent to 40 percent of all its studies. Of those that are built, he said, all are successful.
Further, he said that new downtown hotels that have a higher than normal range of rates “tend to lift the whole market up.”
Tripp Muldrow, who will be doing the other study, said he’ll be interested to see if and how area residents’ shopping patterns have changed since 2007, when he did a similar study in Conway.
“The retail dynamic in Myrtle Beach has changed a lot since ’07,” he said.
He said that at the time of the earlier study, neither Market Common nor the shopping complex at U.S. 17 and S.C. 544 were open. Muldrow said he was struck in the earlier study by how many people would drive from the Waccamaw Neck to Conway for shopping and leisure activities.
Conversely, some in the audience said, people from Conway will drive to Myrtle Beach or other coastal locations to shop in stores that aren’t in the Conway area.
Muldrow said his report would make recommendations for the first year after it is completed, the second year and the fifth year.
Smith said that if his firm’s work shows a hotel is feasible, there likely will be a follow-up study withinn a year to confirm the market is still good for a hotel.