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Main Street Connector expected to boost North Myrtle Beach development

North Myrtle Beach officials are looking forward to the opening of the Main Street Connector this year, and the hope is that it will boost development during this economic downturn.

"We're not sure what effect it will have on development across the Intracoastal Waterway because of development being down," City Manager John Smithson said. "There's a good possibility that it could spur development, but we don't know."

City officials will be happy to see it completed, particularly during hurricane season, as it will provide an alternate route if the city is in a situation where it needs to get people out, and it will give people another access to the city, Smithson said.

Chamber of commerce officials said it will also make land more accessible and valuable, which would diversify the city's economy.

The city's chamber of commerce plans to increase billboard advertising and do some radio spots because of the connector to let people know there's a quicker way to get to the city.

"It's a huge benefit to us," said Marc Jordan, chamber president and chief executive officer. He said members, however, wish the connector could be completed sooner.

The road, when finished, will connect Main Street in North Myrtle Beach with S.C. 31 and S.C. 90. It is on track to be completed by the end of August, according to state Department of Transportation officials.

"We wish it would be dedicated in the spring because we would have the full season to benefit from it," Jordan said.

In general, North Myrtle Beach officials say the economic outlook is dependent on many factors, and the difficult part is the unknown.

"We're optimistic at least from our local municipality that we will be able to deal with the recession," Smithson said. "Our goal is to continue to provide the high level of service this community has come to expect while trying to balance that service with any budget cuts."

There will be no new positions in next year's budget, and there are at least five positions fewer than the number of positions in this year's budget, Smithson said.

Last year, officials planned to hire the city's first economic development director after the City Council and members of the city's Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns about economic development.

But that position is on hold because the city did not get applicants qualified enough for the job.

Smithson said going into the next fiscal year - July 1 to June 30, 2010- city officials will work toward making sure the city has the revenue to meet its expenditures they forecast with a plan in effect if that doesn't occur.

And in the meantime, the city plans to continue to market the area in hopes of getting tourism dollars to help the area get through the economic slump.

"City Council is interested in trying to continue to market the area through the chamber of commerce and take advantage as much as we can with marketing the area because so many revenues are based on tourism," Smithson said. "We're a tourism area and community. We will continue to do the kind of things that will make this city an attractive place to come to."

Jordan said the chamber is aggressively promoting and marketing North Myrtle Beach, targeting those areas where its research shows people come from and are likely to come from such as the Carolinas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada. The chamber is also doing a lot more interactive marketing and plans to increase that in July.

"We know through our accommodations people, people are making their reservations later," Jordan said. "We know it's because people are searching for lower prices. We believe we will have reservations, they are just booking them later. People need to get away and have a vacation. They are still going to do it."

Based on a chamber survey, area businesses are not planning for any huge growth, but most say they are going to "hunker down" because they know the economy is going to turn around, Jordan said.

As to when the economy will start to turn, "everything we've heard is the latter part of [2009] or [ 2010] when it will start to turn, but on a national level," Smithson said.

"But what we hope is that people will still want to take vacations and spend time with their families here, especially with people being able to drive to the area.

"The hope is that we would still maintain a good number of visitors willing to take that drive, sleep in our hotels, etc. Not only would it provide revenue for the businesses, but for the city."