Two properties on the downtown superblock could be subject to eminent domain as Myrtle Beach works to advance a library and museum complex financed by a $10 million loan pool.
Eminent domain is used by government entities to take ownership of private land that is intended for a public use. Land owners must be paid an assessed market value.
Photographer Jack Thompson’s gallery, at 503 Ninth Ave. North, and House Parts LLC, a home fixture store at 801 N. Kings Hwy, each could be subject to a forced sale if city council votes to authorize the move in its Tuesday meeting.
Lacy Paulussen, who owns and operates House Parts with her husband, Andrew, said she felt the business, which has been in the spot for 10 years, has been a “goodwill ambassador” to new arrivals in Myrtle Beach who come shopping for doorbells, doorknobs and other fixtures.
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“When I see so much vacant land, when I see dilapidated land, and they come to a viable place … we just had two festivals in this plaza,” she said.
“It really crushes your spirit,” she added.
The city has been buying properties on the downtown block to build its complex, which Myrtle Beach officials say could bring new life to an area that has recently seen crime. Officials said only two other properties the city is pursuing – an “escape room” next to Thompson’s gallery and another space next to the former Ibiza hookah club – have not entered into an agreement.
Thompson, who does not own his building, said that he had not heard anything about the potential action.
“It just seems like all of this will be tied up in court for some time,” he said, adding that his landlord, Tom Davis, said he planned to fight a city takeover. “I just have my life invested in this store.”
If a motion authorizing eminent domain is passed Tuesday, it will not automatically trigger a legal process, City Manager John Pedersen said.
“We’ll continue to try to negotiate as long as we’re making progress,” Pedersen said. “If it looks like we’re not making progress … that’s the course that we have.”
The complex that was described in a Jan. 24 news conference would include a replacement for the city’s library, as well as a museum run by EdVenture, a private company that has recently merged with the South Carolina Children’s Museum.
“We do believe that a museum is a public purpose and the fact that a private company manages the museum doesn’t make any difference,” Pedersen said. “We have a private company running the sports complex.”
But Miles Adler, an attorney for the owners of House Parts, said that they plan litigation in response and called the city’s treatment of affected businesses “inequitable in the extreme.”
Andrew Paulussen said that the couple had invested their life savings into the store.
“They have severely low-balled this company,” Adler said.
Mayor John Rhodes said in a phone call Friday that he needed to “hear more of the facts” about the property negotiation.
“I think that we’re so far along with what we’re doing that if we can’t come to some kind of an agreement on the price, then that [eminent domain] would be the direction that the city has to go in,” Rhodes said.
Myrtle Beach’s attempt to amass land on the superblock was under wraps for months, as council members discussed property acquisition in closed sessions. Last month, The Sun News reported that a spate of purchases pursued by a broker with an anonymous client could be linked to Myrtle Beach.
The city scheduled its news conference the next week.
So far, eight properties have been sold to the city for a total of $2.06 million, according to a Friday night review of Horry County land records.
Pedersen said that on average, prices are 30 percent above market value. If the city uses eminent domain, however, the properties it targets would only be owed market value.
Before it was public that Myrtle Beach was buying property, bar and club owners on the block argued that new restrictions on closing times were forcing them to lose business. The city instituted a 2 a.m. closing time only on that block after a November shooting in a club on Main Street left five injured.
A lawsuit has also surfaced, as the owners of the former Club Levelz, which used to be on Ninth Avenue North, said the city and county targeted it for closure.
Levelz had already left the block before restrictions on closing times, however.