This story has been updated.
Myrtle Beach City Council voted to allow city staff to use eminent domain, if necessary, to force sales of two properties—801 Kings Hwy N. and 503 Ninth Ave. N.—despite a slate of speakers Tuesday protesting the move.
Eminent domain allows governments to force a sale of land at market value if it is used for a public purpose. Many asked why the city could not use land in different areas for its new library and children’s museum complex.
“In your prayer earlier you thanked God for our freedom, and part of that freedom is owning property and not having to wake up every day and worry that somebody’s going to take it away from you,” Myrtle Beach resident Nell Ciaccio said. A city council member leads a prayer before every official meeting.
Councilman Wayne Gray said that the move will not automatically force sales and that property owners will still have the opportunity to negotiate a price.
“This decision, I assure you, is not a decision that this council or any one of us individually will take lightly,” he said.
But residents and property owners at the city council’s afternoon meeting decried a move that they said ran counter to preserving the history of Myrtle Beach. Eric Heyd, who told The Sun News that he lives on Broadway Street, told council that historic properties “deserve more than just being pushed to just memories, writing and photographs.”
Tom Davis, the owner of the Ninth Avenue building that could now be subject to eminent domain, said, “There’s so many pieces of property. Why pick valuable property in the center of town on a busy highway area to put the children and a museum?”
“As far as museums, we already have a museum there, and it’s called Jack Thompson’s,” he said, referring to the photographer in the building, who has photographed the Grand Strand for decades.
Thompson was celebrated last year in an event that unveiled a mural of one of his photos on the side of his building, as well as fresher landscaping for the adjacent plaza. But that building will be torn down if the city acquires it and fulfills the library and museum concept that has been presented to the public. City officials have said they were considering the project and persuing properties, via an anonymous broker, for months before The Sun News broke the story and officials then held a press conference in January.
“There’s been a lot of secret stuff going on around town,” Davis told The Sun News outside the meeting. “You can’t even tell your mural painter he’s wasting his time.”
Gray said before council’s vote that cities routinely buy properties anonymously for public projects, because being known in property transactions can hurt their bargaining position and therefore cost taxpayers more money.
“We may describe that as being deceptive and devious, but frankly, it’s what is practiced,” Gray said.
In its morning workshop, council had a short discussion over the matter and did not take public comments. Gray urged that the city would either comply with or negotiate outstanding leases on the properties it buys.
“We would have to honor the lessee’s rights and enjoinment to that lease if one exists, if one exists,” Gray said. “Or we eventually negotiate a settlement of that lease, satisfactory to both parties.”
House Parts LLC, the other business that could now be subject to eminent domain, has a lease with Slow Boat Properties LLC, store owner Andrew Paulussen said. Slow Boat, a holding company, is also owned by Paulussen.
George Vari, a partner in the escape room at 505 Ninth Ave. N., told The Sun News he did not know when his business, which had entered into a multi-year lease, might be forced to move. City Manager John Pedersen told The Sun News last week that the city had agreed on a sale price with Vari’s landlord, but that it had not yet acquired the building because of the lease.
Vari and his partners have rented another space in the mean time, and are now paying rent and insurance on both spaces in anticipation of a move, he said. Irene Kirszt, another partner in the business, told The Sun News on Friday that she had entered into a nine-year lease for the property, and she also was not clear on what would happen to that agreement.
Barbara Todd, who lives on Broadway Street, said she attended the council’s meetings because she also felt that historic parts of the city were being destroyed.
“The only thing we’ll have left are Jack [Thompson’s] pictures,” Todd said. “There’s no transparency as to what’s going on.”
A previous version of this story misstated the nature of House Parts LLC’s lease.