Folks vacationing here on the Grand Strand, and perhaps participating in one of the many sports events or at one of the growing sports venues, likely do not relate to city boundaries or to Horry County. Visitors and many who live here see the Grand Strand as one community. Without considering the concept, they are thinking regionally -- an approach often lacking in area governments.
The need for more regional thinking is nothing new. As baseball legend Yogi Berra famously quipped, “It’s déjà-vu all over again.’’
The city of Myrtle Beach has taken off the table its plan to request funding from Horry County in constructing a planned $12.4 million sports tourism complex next to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The original thinking, as explained by city spokesman Mark Kruea, had been “since they’ll be getting some of this money back from the complex through taxes, we thought they might want to contribute.’’
The response from the Horry County Council to the city’s original proposal certainly did not suggest much interest in helping the city with the 100,000-square-foot indoor sports facility, discussed for 10 years and now moving forward with a planned construction start in February. Some county council members voiced frustration about progress on the complex.
“The people have already been taxed and you don’t know what the revenue or expense side is going to be,” County Chairman Mark Lazarus said. “We do need answers.’’
Councilman Harold Worley said he’s all in for any program to increase tourism but “I haven’t seen anything but a big tax bill. You’re going to have to show me what the impact on tourism is....’’ Well, Mr. Councilman and Mr. County Chairman, what project, public or private, shows revenue, before it actually starts flowing? Perhaps they refer to projected revenue. The chief executive officer of Sports Facility Advisory, a consultant firm, has projected direct visitor spending of $6.9 million in the first year the complex is open, increasing to $28.4 million in five years.
In 2012, sports events in the city of Myrtle Beach generated an estimated $132 million in direct spending, according to assistant city manager John Pedersen. Sports tourism events include the Beach Ball Classic, the Myrtle Beach Marathon and a variety of youth baseball and softball, basketball and volleyball events. Direct spending jumped because of the Grand Park Complex at The Market Common.
The North Myrtle Beach sports complex rapidly taking shape off S.C. 31 near the Robert Edge Parkway is expected to produce $14 million in 2014. That city has nearly 50 events booked for next year. All of the folks participating in or watching baseball and softball and other games won’t necessarily sleep or eat in the friendly confines of North Myrtle Beach. They may well stay in Little River -- unincorporated Horry County -- and they won’t care a fig as to which geographical entity they’re in.
Eleven years ago, the Wall College of Business Administration at Coastal Carolina University and The Sun News sponsored Growth Summit 2002. Strategic planner Michael Gallis of Charlotte, N.C., told community leaders of the necessity for erasing political boundaries, putting aside egos and selfishness. It was clear 11 years ago that the Grand Strand crosses the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and was bigger than a longish coastal strip. “We have to think of it a new way,’’ Gallis said.
“Forget your local boundaries,’’ was the advice of David Russell, then director of intergovernment affairs for the state of Connecticut. That’s perhaps no easier now than in 2002, but it needs to be a goal for our local governments as sports tourism grows and grows.
Horry County and its municipalities should play together.