Organizers of a Christian ministry are nearly finished renovating the historic Rivoli Theatre with hopes to open this fall as a teen event venue featuring a performance stage and a coffee shop.
Ground Zero, a teen ministry founded in the area in 2008, has been leasing the building – built in 1958 – from the city for $1 since June 2011 and working on the building since February 2012.
“We still have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way,” said Scott Payseur, executive director for Ground Zero. “If we had the money it would probably be done in two months.”
Payseur said the organization’s done about $1.3 million worth of repairs and renovations to the building. Most of that has come in the form of volunteer hours and donated building materials, he said. Ground Zero has raised about $250,000 of that in cash, Payseur said.
“We’ve used a lot of volunteers,” he said. “Now we’re down to the skill work – that costs money.”
Many of the volunteers have been teens involved in Ground Zero who said opening the building would fill a void in the community.
The teens said there is very little for kids their age to do in the Myrtle Beach area other than go to the beach and the boardwalk, walk around the mall or go to teen night club Karma on Ocean Boulevard.
The new venue will give them something to do as well as provide an opportunity to share their thoughts and beliefs on Christianity with other young people, said Ethan Griggs, a senior at St. James High School.
“It’s going to help minister to the youth in a positive way,” he said.
Griggs said the building will provide a safe, fun environment for all teens to spend time.
“We’re not advertising that it’s a Christian club,” said Jordan Rhodes, a senior at Myrtle Beach High School. “We’ll have bands and [comedians] that aren’t just about Christ.” Rhodes said she couldn’t calculate the number of hours she’s worked on the building since she joined Ground Zero nearly four years ago.
“I’ve been working on this building since before it was even bought,” she said. “I helped find the location.”
In 2009 members of Ground Zero were working to open the teen club in two buildings in the Superblock. Payseur said the building had major structural damage and they decided to put the club on hold until the economy turned around and they found another location.
The city purchased the theater at 904 Chester St. in 1999 for about $750,000 and spent another $200,000 to install a new air conditioning unit and replace a leaky roof, city spokesman Mark Kruea told The Sun News in 2011 shortly before Ground Zero signed its lease. The building was thought to be the home of a performing arts center that would hopefully spark an arts district but city officials decided it would be cheaper to build a new facility at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center than renovate the Rivoli.
In February, the Myrtle Beach City Council voted to place a referendum on the November ballot asking residents if they would support a tax increase with the money funding construction of the performing arts center, which is estimated to cost about $10 million.
The Rivoli opened as a movie theater in 1958 and has served as a nightclub, children’s theater and live music venue before sitting empty for at least 15 years until Ground Zero came along.
“I don’t think people expected us to fix it up the way we did,” Payseur said. “I think they thought we were going to clean it up and that was it.”
Ground Zero is working to install all new bathrooms. Crews have extended the stage and created a backstage area. They’re replacing the concession stand with a coffee shop.
The group is going to remove the heating and cooling system from the electrical room – placing a new one on the roof – and turn it into a prayer room.
They’ve even removed all but 12 of the theater’s original chairs and left the floor area being completely open to accommodate skateboarders for special events or even an indoor ice-skating rink in the winters. The remaining seating will be able to be moved and rearranged as needed.
Payseur said Ground Zero probably needs to raise another $375,000 to complete construction and purchase furniture, televisions, gaming consoles and everything else needed to open.
That’s something the teens involved with Ground Zero said they are hoping happens soon.
“I can’t wait to see how many lives it’s going to touch,” Rhodes said.