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Myrtle Beach area tourism plan unveiled

State and local tourism officials unveiled a new Grand Strand tourism development plan Monday that recommends integrating the natural attraction of the beach with cultural and historic sites inland.

The key issues considered in developing the plan were making Myrtle Beach a world class 21st century vacation destination attractive both to domestic and international visitors, adding activities beyond the beach and building tourism in heritage cities like Conway and Georgetown, according to plan creator Tourism Development International. The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism funded the plan.

Peter Mac Nulty, the managing director of Tourism Development International led the presentation Monday in Murrells Inlet and said that while parts of Horry County and Georgetown County have the busiest and most successful tourism destinations in the state, other parts of the region remain undeveloped from a tourism perspective.

"Interdependence is critical to the future sustainable development of tourism in the area," Mac Nulty said.

He presented two flagship programs, which are defined as projects that will generate enough attention they will attract people to the region.

The first program is the restructuring and renaissance of the urban resort area in Myrtle Beach, which included suggestions to improve the beach, enhance the quality of the downtown, restructure the current development model, improve ocean views and develop better pedestrian walkways and public transportation. It also recommended changes to Kings Highway, including adding pedestrian walkways and landscaped areas, and encouraged developing some sort of project at the former Pavilion site.

The second flagship project suggested was the development of Prince George Harbor on the former steelworks site in Georgetown. It proposed a multiuse development with hotels, a town square, marina, and small boat cruise terminal.

That site could also serve as the base for another proposal: a Waccamaw tourism trail, which would focus on historic places and ecotourism activities. The trail would allow people to explore by land or water several areas throughout the Grand Strand. The plan suggests a strategically located visitor center that would introduce visitors to the various activities offered beyond the beach.

The plan also recommends increasing Conway tourism by creating pedestrian paths from the downtown area to the riverside and strengthening the historic trail. It recommends a new riverside plaza that could serve as an area for festivals and activities.

A waterfront plaza is a good idea, but the proposal put forward includes some marsh land and some private property so there are issues that would need to be resolved, said Steve Tanner, senior planner for the city of Conway and a member of the steering committee for the plan, adding that it is doable.

"I think it's at least a 10-year plan, and with the economy the way it is, it may be a 15-year plan," he said.

Tanner said the city is already looking at improving thoroughfares that would make Conway more attractive to tourists.

Another recommendation was improving access roads to the area by limiting signage and improving landscaping to make the arrival to the area a better experience. It also mentioned the potential for the proposed Interstate 73, which would provide better access to the region and alleviate some traffic.

"The future growth of the Grand Strand industry will be largely dependent on improvements in infrastructure," said Brad Dean, the president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The proposal also recommended improving Myrtle Beach's capacity to serve as a convention and meeting destination, which hinges on increased road and air travel options, he said. The plan recommends improvements to the convention center including expanding existing facilities, creating a convention center district with development on neighboring properties and creating a pedestrian walkway linking the area to Broadway at the Beach.

"Group markets offer tremendous benefit," Dean said. "[They] bring many first-time visitors in a season we typically don't have as many."

The plans could increase visitor spending 5 percent to 10 percent a year, after the economic recovery, to reach about $7 billion in a decade, according to Mac Nulty.

"This process is really all about local involvement," said Chad Prosser, the director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. "As we continue with what is now a plan that's had much discussion and deliberation and continue with executing elements of that it depends on what all you ... do with that."

If the group brought together for the steering committee can stay together and work on some of the projects, tangible results can come from the process, he said.

The implementation and funding will be up to individual cities and the region as a whole, Prosser said.

No timeline has been set for accomplishing the projects laid out in the plan but it can serve as a jumping off point, which will allow cities and local groups to further develop the ideas and work on raising necessary funds, Dean said.

"Local communities can use this plan as a stepping stone," he said. "As individual communities look for the opportunity to improve segments they will lay the foundation for future development."