More than 17,000 athletes could be traveling to Myrtle Beach as soon as 2015 to use a new state-of-the-art 100,000 square-foot indoor sports facility.
Nearly 10 years in the making, Myrtle Beach City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to build the estimated $12.4 million facility adjacent to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, to applause from the council.
City manager Tom Leath now has the authority to partner with the Sports Facility Advisory, a Florida-based management consultant company, to bring the facility to the city. According to the proposed timetable, construction would begin in February 2014 and with doors opening in February 2015 – just in time for the spring sports season.
The facility would satisfy recently extended stipulations of a $7 million grant the city received in state funds in 2005 to purchase nearly 40 acres next to the convention center.
Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill last month that extends the initial timeframe for completion that was stipulated when the funds were granted from 10 years to 15 years, meaning the city would have until 2020 to complete the planned 100,000-square-foot expansion instead of 2015.
Mayor John Rhodes has long championed the importance of sports tourism in Myrtle Beach, saying it’s one of the few areas that have been recession proof.
“There are events we’re missing out on because we don’t have the availability of space,” he said, adding that the facility would enable them to compete to bring those tournaments to town.
Dev Pathik, founder and CEO of SFA, said the facility would include eight basketball courts that each would be cross-lined to hold two volleyball courts. Under the proposal, Horry Georgetown Technical College will use all city sports tourism venues as learning laboratories for their proposed sports tourism curriculum.
Budget director Michael Shelton said the facility would be financed through bonds that could paid back over 25 years through hospitality fee revenue and wouldn’t cause property tax rates to increase.
Pathik said Myrtle Beach is “fabulous destination” for sports tourism, which he said accounted for 27 percent of travel in the nation in 2012.
“We would not even be here if we didn’t think this was a fantastic opportunity for you,” he said. “Folks don’t want to go to tournaments in a major city. They don’t feel safe. They stay in their rooms and order pizza.”
Evan Eleff, vice president of client services for SFA, said they expect as many as 40,000 athletes to participate in planned sports complex by 2020.
Pathik projected that direct visitor spending in the Myrtle Beach area would be $6.9 million in the first year the facility was open, increasing to $28.4 million by year five. Sports events in the city in 2012 generated about $132 million in direct spending for the city, according to assistant city manager John Pedersen.
Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he supported the facility because it would attract business during the shoulder season
“Plus, business will be dispersed amongst all businesses, large and small,” he said.
The proposed plan comes after a January presentation from Don Schumacher, manager of the National Association of Sports Commissions, who presented research suggested the City Council consider building a similar sports complex that also created an opportunity for new curriculums at HGTC. That research was paid for by the chamber using accommodations tax money, Dean said.