April 23, 2013

SC Senate committee approves time extension on construction of Myrtle Beach Convention Center expansion

Myrtle Beach is one step closer to receiving an extra five years to complete construction on a Myrtle Beach Convention Center expansion.

The city was in danger of having to pay back the $7 million it received from the state for the expansion.

Now, Myrtle Beach might be able to use the expansion to increase the city’s entertainment options or improve its sports tourism program.

The S.C. Senate Finance Committee issued a favorable report Tuesday on a bill that would extend the timeframe for completion from 10 years to 15 years, meaning the city would have until 2020 to complete the 100,000 square-foot expansion instead of 2015.

The bill is headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

The city received a $7 million grant in 2005 from the state to purchase nearly 40 acres next to the convention center, with stipulations that the work either begin within five years or be completed within a decade.

City officials told state senators that the failing economy slowed down the process.

“I don’t think they wanted to build a complex right away,” Sen. Ray Cleary, who co-sponsored the bill, said during a Finance Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon. “They’re ready to move forward. They’re just asking for extra time.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman said he was glad a subcommittee added language to the proposed bill that would require Myrtle Beach to repay the $7 million with interest.

City spokesman Mark Kruea said the city is requesting the additional time so it can bring a specific plan for what it would like to build and get it approved by the General Assembly.

“[The bill] extends the time that we have to build the addition and broadens the scope of projects we can put on that property,” he said.

When the city initially courted the state for the $7 million, the city intended to build a trade center on the land behind and adjacent to the convention center.

“What we thought about putting on the property has crystallized,” Kruea said. “This [bond agreement] was passed pre-recession, when the boom was still underway. The economy has shifted. Revenue sources and financing still need to be secured for a large capital project.”

Kruea said the city is considering building an outdoor entertainment complex that is largely outdoors or an indoor sports facility. Both complement the convention center, allowing it to hold larger events and bring larger groups to town.

A third option would be to build an additional 100,000 square feet of “traditional convention center” property, he said.

In January, the manager of the National Association of Sports Commissions told the City Council it should consider building a 90,000 square foot indoor sports facility.

Don Schumacher told the council that the project – which would include 10 hardwood basketball courts and create opportunity for new curriculums at Horry Georgetown Technical College – would cost about $10 million to construct.

The facility would capitalize on the $100 million the city saw in direct spending from sports tourism events in 2011, he said. Assistant City Manager John Pedersen said events in 2012 generated $132 million in direct spending.

Kruea said sports tourism is a viable option for the city.

“People travel with their families for sporting activities,” he said.

Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, also said Myrtle Beach is ripe for sports tourism.

“That is where the market is,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a major return on state dollars.”

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