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Surfside Beach hopefuls speak out on Myrtle Beach

The Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association asked Surfside Beach Town Council candidates during a forum Thursday to support tourism and enhancing infrastructure such as the Myrtle Beach International Airport and Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

Hospitality Association Board Chairman Jeffrey Wisniewski said Surfside Beach's support is important for these projects, which he said benefit the entire Grand Strand.

"Their support will go a long way with City Council and Horry County Council," Wisniewski said. "It will bring in more businesses, more groups all up and down the Grand Strand."

The reaction from candidates running for the three open Town Council seats was mixed. The hospitality association sent out surveys to all 11 candidates, but eight responded.

Two of the eight, Marty Rhoades and Ann Dodge were against convention center expansion.

"I have not seen enough information about what expansion would do to benefit tourism in the Grand Strand," Rhoades said.

He said it was hard to support expansion without more data.

Rhoades said as a council member he would help promote tourism by supporting the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in its efforts.

Candidate Ann Dodge said she did not see the need to expand the convention center.

"I think it is big enough as it is," she said. "Of course I don't live in Myrtle Beach, but from where I stand here I don't see that we need it."

Instead, she thinks Surfside Beach should focus on beautification of Surfside Beach to attract tourists.

"I want to make it so beautiful they cannot help but to stop in Surfside Beach," Dodge said.

Other candidates supported the center's expansion.

"A nice convention center will bring in money to this area as a whole," said candidate Randle Stevens. "I would like to see the expansion so it could bring in more events for the whole area. The more events you have, the more money you bring in."

The Myrtle Beach Convention Center attracts more than 170 annual events with nearly 550,000 attendees.

The economic impact of the center exceeds $50 million annually, according to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

But the area cannot depend on the "if you build it they will come" approach, said candidate Bill Rempfer.

Rempfer was the only candidate who responded to the survey against expanding the airport.

"With the turn that the economy took, a bigger airport would be sitting empty right now," Rempfer said.

He also said he flies frequently and to fly back and forth to New York and he likes the current airport.

"We have the cleanest, nicest airport," he said. " I wouldn't want too much to change."

Of the 11 candidates who filed for office, seven were present at Thursday's meet and greet event hosted by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, including incumbent Doug Samples.

Former Surfside Beach councilwoman Rebecca Hiatt was also at Thursday's event.

Other candidates in the race for the three council seats up for election are Jason A. Scully, Chad Perrino, E. Shannon Kirk and Rod Smith and Scott Anderson.

Polls open from 7 a.m. to 7p.m. Tuesday.

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