Myrtle Beach is freshening up one of its downtown welcome mats.
The sidewalk along Ninth Avenue North - one of the main routes to the oceanfront in the heart of the entertainment district - is getting a $55,000 facelift, upgrades that downtown officials hope will bring new life to a stretch where stores and eateries struggle to stay open.
"It's your front door," said Dave Sebok, executive director of the city's Downtown Redevelopment Corp., which paid for the project using surplus parking revenue collected last year. "It's the first thing you see when you are a pedestrian."
Pedestrians - many of whom park in the garage at the corner of Ninth Avenue North and Kings Highway, then walk to the oceanfront - stroll on the damaged sidewalks past a series of mostly vacant stores. Only a couple are filled with active businesses.
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It's a first impression officials want to change, and they say the new sidewalks are a start of improvements that might spur some of the property owners to also fix up their buildings.
"It's one small step," Sebok said. "Ninth Avenue is still a very important gateway for tourists going to downtown."
Crews started last week ripping out the cracked and crumbling concrete and replacing it with a fresh, somewhat decorative design with triangular lines. Palmetto trees will be planted near Withers Alley.
The upgrades are possible thanks to better-than-expected revenue from parking downtown last year. The downtown group earmarked $340,500 for the sidewalk improvements and 10 other downtown projects, including installing more restrooms, picking up trash more frequently and planting trees along Chester Street. Another project on the list, adding four landscaped pedestrian crosswalks on Ocean Boulevard from Third Avenue South to Second Avenue North, starts this week, costing $35,000.
Back on Ninth Avenue North, only the north-side sidewalk is getting the upgrade; officials didn't want to spend the money sprucing up the south-side sidewalk that runs along the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park because it likely will be torn up when property owner Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. develops the empty site, said Steve Moore, the city's streets superintendent.
B&C, which closed the Pavilion in 2006, has said it will develop the site when the market conditions are right and the economy has recovered. The Pavilion garage, the one on the corner of Ninth and Kings Highway, is leased from B&C by the Downtown Redevelopment Corp.
Victor Shamah, whose family owns some of the property along Ninth Avenue North, noticed the sidewalk work last week and welcomed it - and wants even more along the stretch where his family has owned property for more than 50 years.
"The sidewalk work needed to be done," he said.
But Shamah also would like the city to provide some incentives for business owners to spruce up their properties. Some are hesitant to invest in improvements without tenants lined up, he said.
It has been challenging to find stores and restaurants to fill those empty spaces because business along those few blocks hasn't been good, especially since the Pavilion closed, Shamah said. Ninth Avenue North also took a backseat to street improvements a few years ago along Mr. Joe White Avenue, formerly called 10th Avenue North, he said.
"[The stores] haven't been doing any business on those blocks [along Ninth Avenue North]," Shamah said. "It's just rough seeing it deteriorate like that.
"The sidewalks - OK," he said. "But I want to see a lot more done. It's a start."