Myrtle Beach downtown redevelopment group seeking creation of new tax district

04/09/2014 11:10 PM

04/09/2014 11:11 PM

Owners of commercial properties in downtown Myrtle Beach could have to pay more in taxes – money that would come directly back to their area – if a municipal improvement district (MID) proposed by the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. advances.

The proposed district would consist of properties included in the DRC area – from Sixth Avenue South to 16th Avenue North, from the Atlantic Ocean to Oak Street and Broadway Street. Owners of land and commercial businesses, including rented residential properties, would pay more in taxes for a number of years. That money would, in turn, be earmarked for use only on an approved list of projects that benefit the DRC.

DRC members suggested projects ranging from building new parking garages to reconfiguring roads at Five Points – where U.S. 501 becomes Main Street and converges with Kings Highway – to purchasing blighted or vacant property.

“Buy the Pavilion property and turn it into a public park,” city manager Tom Leath said. Leath also serves as DRC treasurer.

The amount that commercial property owners would have to pay depends on the list of projects approved by City Council, which would determine how much money the DRC would collect annually. Sebok said there was no limit to the amount of time the MID could last, and members suggested a possible range of 10-15 years.

For example, if $1 million were to be collected in additional taxes for DRC properties each year, a property assessed at $90,000 – land and structure – would pay an additional $192 each year.

According to Horry County records, there is $28 million worth of assessed commercial private property in the DRC area.

Sebok said money collected through the MID would free up money in the group’s $1.5 million budget and enable them to do more capital improvements and enhance services.

DRC members plan to hold public meetings with stakeholders over the next few months to determine what types of improvements those who own property in the area would like to see.

“We need to have groups come in and tell us what they want so they’re brought into it on the front end – so we’re not telling them what we want,” DRC co-chairman Debby Brooks. “They’re telling us. … The best way to sell it is to make it personal.”

New DRC member Efi Shahar said if she owned a business in the DRC her concern would be seeing the return on her investment. Shahar owns a beachwear store on Kings Highway between First and Second avenues North – across from the DRC.

“As a business owner, I want to see the value now, not 10 to 15 years from now,” she said.

DRC members hope to present a proposal to the Myrtle Beach City Council by the end of the summer, and council would have to approve creating the district.

“What this does is authorize the city to create an assessment district,” DRC executive director David Sebok said during a Wednesday meeting. “It is a new charge to the property owner. … The city can collect this new assessment on an annual basis and use it for … public improvements and activities in support of maintaining those public improvements. The bottom line is it creates a new revenue source from the private sector.”

Sebok said for years only a few businesses have contributed to improvements and events that have benefitted many businesses, citing special events hosted by and paid for through the Oceanfront Merchants Association as an example.

“This would be a way … so that everyone who’s contributing is benefitting,” Sebok said.

Sebok said the MID also could act as an incentive to some of the vacant or blighted properties – especially in the south mixed-used area from Second Avenue North to Seventh Avenue North between Kings Highway – to do something.

“If we are successful in identifying what can be done to improve the south mixed-use area … and make those improvements, those crack houses, drug houses and prostitutes are going to be moved out of the area,” DRC chairman Chuck Martino said. “And that, at the end of the day, will not only benefit the DRC area, it will benefit the city as a whole.”

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