Myrtle Beach could create a new office of economic development to help rehabilitate the downtown area and achieve the city’s long-term growth goals.
In the city’s strategic planning workshop on Tuesday afternoon, city manager John Pedersen suggested that an Economic Development Office could be introduced as soon as the 2017-2018 budget. But while the office would have a broad scope of economic growth, discussion among council members continued to circle back to what could be done to fix the downtown area.
Councilman Randal Wallace asked what the city could do in the Withers Swash area, where he described some of the homes as poorly maintained.
“What will we do to attract new buyers and upgrade that,” he asked.
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Pedersen said the city could offer financial incentives, or change zoning codes.
“In some residential neighborhoods they do allow some of the older homes to redevelop for legal offices, or small accounting offices,” he said.
Councilman Wayne Gray suggested some commercial areas, like one lot across from First Baptist Church at 4th Avenue North and Kings Highway, might be too blighted for developers to come in directly. He said the city could take control of the properties and turn them into parking lots or other low-maintenance spaces so that they don’t remain vacant.
“That piece of property is so aged and so tired, it’s not going to attract an investor to retrofit it,” Gray said.
Pedersen said that the city already has a $10 million line of credit that it uses to redevelop properties in the downtown area, often by offering loans to property owners to demolish run-down buildings. That money could also be used to hold onto land temporarily and convert it into park space or parking, in a move similar to what Gray proposed, he said.
The office that would be in charge of economic development would also be focused on increasing business competitiveness, recruiting businesses to land like the International Technology and Aerospace Park and addressing empty retail storefronts on Kings Highway and U.S. 501.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said the new office will need to coordinate with the Downtown Redevelopment Corp., a nonprofit created by the city that is focused only on the area from 6th Avenue South to 16th Avenue North. That group took over the planning of festivals and events in the area this year, and takes part in rehabilitation of public areas like Nance Plaza. It also collects parking revenues.