Talks of sports tourism in Horry County’s shoulder season have re-ignited a conversation between county officials and those looking to bring an ice rink to the area.
Steve Elias, general manager of Grand Strand Ice Management, said his company has been working on plans to bring a 1,000-seat ice arena to Horry County for about the last two years. He has an investor lined up in New Jersey and more than 400 people have filled out a survey on the website www.grandstrandicemanagement.com supporting the idea of ice on the Strand.
“We’re looking for a lease agreement, either with a private enterprise or with the city of Myrtle Beach, the city of North Myrtle Beach or Horry County,” Elias said, adding the company is looking for five-acre property.
And it’s that sell, said Wayne Fussaro, chief fiscal officer of the company, that has jammed the ice rink plans from funneling money to Grand Strand businesses in tourism’s off season.
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“That’s been the hard sell in my opinion,” Fussaro said. “Just opening the eyes of locals who say we haven’t had this before, why do we need it now? Just getting them to see that vision that we have has been the hardest thing.”
Ice Management officials, including Elias, met with county councilmen last week to pitch the $8.5 million project and to seek direction in moving the project forward. Part of that pitch is explaining the local interest in hockey, figure skating, ice skating and more, which includes the Coastal Carolina University hockey club. The club, which has 25 players as well as coaches, family members and fans, travels 90 miles to Wilmington, N.C., to practice and have its games.
“That’s money that’s going to Wilmington that can stay here,” Elias said. “Not to mention the other teams that would come here and bring their families and spectators during our off season.”
The hockey season typically runs from the end of August through mid-March – precisely the time the Grand Strand tourism revenue slows down.
Andrew Kelly, student representative of the newly formed hockey club at CCU, said because CCU is a new program, it only has about seven home games this year, but that number will grow. That will mean more travel to Wilmington for players and coaches. He said a local rink would not only help the current players, but future prospects as well.
“It would allow us to practice more than once or twice a week,” he said. “Our home games would be really close, so students from the school could come and watch us and we could recruit to the area a lot easier being this close to Myrtle Beach.
“Everyone wants a rink in Myrtle Beach. It would make our lives a lot easier.”
To move the project forward, Grand Strand Ice Management needs to learn the different tax areas and how properties are zoned in order to find the perfect plot, Elias said he was told by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.
Brent Taylor, director of the Horry County Parks and Recreation Department, said the county is exploring the ice rink idea as well.
“It is in our recreation plan,” Taylor said. “We don’t have a funding mechanism for it yet.”
He said he believes the rink would be popular.
“We believe that an ice facility would be of great benefit to the county from both a recreation and sports tourism perspective,” he said. “I have no doubt it would be popular within this diverse community.”
Elias has big plans for the company if he can get the initial ice rink built, including plans for a minor league hockey team.
“There have been some friends that I know, and some calls that have been made and some conversations that we’ve had, and some organizations have been expressing interest in coming here,” he said. “We want to be the first step in that building block into attracting a professional sports team in here.”
Many of the comments to the company’s website have come from those who used to live in northern states.
“To not have an activity where over 50 percent of the population is familiar with ... it seems to be an opportunity that’s just waiting to be tapped into,” Elias said. “Myrtle Beach is a vacation destination. People want to come here and if they can do the activities they want to do in an area that they want to vacation, why not do it here?”