What is the “next big thing” to happen for the downtown Myrtle Beach area?
Members of Myrtle Beach’s Downtown Redevelopment Corp. will spend the next several months working to answer that question by polling area business owners, residents, City Council members and tourists to determine where the group should focus its energy.
DRC members define the “next big thing” as the next thing that downtown Myrtle Beach will be known for – be it an attraction, an icon or the general feeling of the area.
“In 1999 the city created the Pavilion Area Master Plan,” DRC Chairman Chuck Martino said. “We’ve pretty well accomplished that, except for acquiring land and building parking decks.”
Items on that list included forming the DRC, amending city zoning regulations and creating an amusement tax district. The mission of the DRC is to initiate and facilitate the revitalization of downtown – defined as the area from Sixth Avenue South to 16th Avenue North, from the Atlantic Ocean to Oak Street and Broadway Street.
“The question becomes where do we go from here with a new vision and plan?” Martino said.
Martino said he feels the future of the area is in the south mixed-use area, from Second Avenue North to Seventh Avenue North between Kings Highway.
“Where do we plan on seeing the most development and business potential?” he said. “I think it will most likely be the south mixed-use area.”
Martino said suggestions such as creating a “river walk” atmosphere along Withers Swash and extending the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade south would give an opportunity to connect the entire downtown. Withers Swash reaches the boardwalk between Fourth Avenue South and Sixth Avenue South.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes has said he would like to extend the boardwalk so it would be the longest in the world.
The boardwalk stretches from First Avenue North to 15th Avenue North, with the recent completion of a one-block extension to Banditos Restaurant & Cantina.
The city spent about $6 million to construct the 1.2-mile boardwalk from First Avenue North to 14th Avenue North, which opened in 2010. Banditos owner Chip Smith said he wanted to capitalize on the foot traffic that would pass behind his restaurant if the boardwalk went to 15th Avenue North and paid for a 425-foot extension.
City Council members have said they would like the private sector to sponsor either parts or all of any future extensions, keeping any public contribution as low as possible, but Martino said taxpayer money that comes through the DRC could potentially pay for the longer boardwalk.
The DRC on Wednesday voted to put together a proposal for a municipal improvement district made up of the DRC area where owners of land and commercial businesses, including rented residential properties, would pay more in taxes for a number of years.
That money would, in turn, be earmarked for use only on an approved list of projects that benefit the DRC. City Council would have to approve creation of the MID.
The amount that commercial property owners would have to pay depends on the list of projects approved by City Council, which would determine how much money the DRC would collect annually. DRC Executive Director David Sebok said there was no limit to the amount of time the MID could last, and members suggested a possible range of 10-15 years.
“There’s a [suggestion] to extend the boardwalk to Withers Swash,” Martino said. “The city could fund it or we could fund it with money from a MID.”
The success of the boardwalk encouraged the DRC to establish a brand committee that will determine how the downtown area is viewed by residents and tourists. The Brand Committee’s findings will help to determine where the DRC goes, Martino said.
“The boardwalk has picked up so much momentum,” said Michael Guthrie, chairman of the Brand Committee. “Is there a way to capitalize on it?”
Guthrie said the group will survey people to see what they associate with the boardwalk area and work to expand those impressions.
“We think people think really good things about that area, but we might be wrong,” he said. “We want a clear understanding of the perception and will improve upon that.”
Sebok said those ideas would be collected through a questionnaire on the group’s website and distributed in social media. The group also hopes to collect information by surveying residents and tourists visiting the downtown area in various locations and at various times of the week.
Martino said gathering the information will help them identify what it is that people think they need or want, and then determine what those things cost.
The Brand Committee, the work to determine the next big thing and the MID all are interconnected, Martino said.
“We’re trying to get a perception of how people receive us before we are able to do the next big thing,” he said, which could be paid for with money collected through the MID. “The DRC is greater than … just the oceanfront. We need to start empowering some of the area and start getting some of the same results we’ve had in the [oceanfront area].”