Is there a future for Myrtle Beach’s mom-and-pop motels?

The Emerald Shores and Rainbow Court have gone down and large projects at 1204 N Ocean Blvd. and Sixth Avenue North have gone up, but some Myrtle Beach business owners are still working to maintain some of the smaller motels built before high-rises ruled the beach.

Many of those squat L-shaped motels, respites with twinkling cerulean pools for families taking a week in town, have long since disappeared as towering condo-tel high-rises eat up oceanfront space in Myrtle Beach. In 2015, the city approved a $10 million loan pool to help landowners demolish the motels — a move officials said would make the land more appealing.

But with development eating up shoreline parcels and public investment promised just a few streets away as the city builds a new library, some motels remain family affairs.

Turning down offers

Jim Jurney, the owner of the Diplomat Motel at 608 N. Ocean Boulevard, built the white-cement latticed building in 1959. While he turned control of it over to Karon Mitchell, a prominent south end business owner, for 12 years, he re-assumed control in 2011 with the intent to pass it down to his children.

Jurney’s oceanside rooms, which include small kitchenettes, open into decks just a few feet off the downtown boardwalk.

But life circumstances have put 90-year-old Jurney in an unusual spot — after his daughter died at 46 last November, he is now the legal caretaker for his twin granddaughters, Madeline and Merritt, who will turn 8 next Saturday.

He manages to make it to the Diplomat for a few hours each day now, between ferrying his granddaughters from school to swimming and dance lessons.

Jurney told The Sun News that he’d had good business at the site, but that he receives daily offers on the land — a prime oceanfront spot on what will become the main entrance to the beach once U.S. 501 is realigned to feed into 7th Avenue North. Just across the avenue, a mini-golf course is slated to become a large mixed-use building. On his other side, at 6th Avenue North, crews are hard at work building the foundation for a 237,000-square-foot, 19-floor hotel that is projected to come on line in 2018.

Jurney’s not giving up his property for now, however.

“I hope I’m here for another 25 years,” he said.

Jurney has deep roots in Myrtle Beach, having moved to the area from the Washington, D.C., region after marrying in the 1940s. Here he built the Emerald Shores Motel, which, along with the nearby Rainbow Court, was demolished last year. (The Rainbow Court “Annex” Motel, at 411 N. Ocean Blvd., has different owners and is still standing.)

Jurney sold The Emerald Shores at 404 N. Ocean Blvd. in 2005 for $6.3 million. But over the years the property declined, eventually sitting unused when one of its rooms caught on fire in late 2015.

“It just hurt me to go by to see it,” Jurney said.

The former Emerald Shores owners now plan to convert it to gravel parking, and the demolition was completed with the help of the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp.’s line of credit.

But the Diplomat is preparing for the upcoming season. Flyers at the front desk advertised room rates for the upcoming Carolina Country Music Festival, held just a block away — $860 for four nights poolside and $1,000 for four nights oceanfront.

Under new ownership

Chasitie and Jaret Hucks have been operating the four-story Midtown Inn, at 309 8th Ave. N, since January 2016. The 52-room cement accommodations with honeycombed white terraces has quickly become a home to the family, which moved Jaret Hucks’ grandmother, “Nanna,” to room 201. The couple said they live in quarters on the premises more often than their house in Conway.

“Now, going to Conway’s a vacation,” Chasitie Hucks said.

The Huckses have been hard at work renovating the space, putting waterproof flooring that looks like wood paneling into the rooms, replacing curtains and ripping out faux-felt green turf from the breezeways.

“Whatever we get out of it we put back in,” said Chasitie Hucks, who said the family is hoping to keep the business long enough to create a college fund for their 2- and 4-year-old boys.

The hotel, despite sustaining flooding on the side that faces the ocean during Hurricane Matthew, was “pretty booked the whole last season,” she said.

During the hurricane, the family decamped to one of the three cottages on Chester Street that the Huckses run along with the main building. Suites in the cottages, which are in the process of renovation, feature multiple bedrooms and kitchens.

As The Sun News toured the property, four female college students from Marquette University in Wisconsin were checking in for a spring break trip.

“We’re not a big resort, but a lot of families can’t afford a whole big resort,” Chasitie Hucks said.

Waiting on an investment

Noam Pyade, owner of the Fountainbleau and Oasis Motels, said he’s been booked fairly consistently in the four years he’s controlled the properties.

“It’s a dying breed,” Pyade said of the smaller motels. But Pyade owns far more than just the two properties — he also owns three parcels at Chester Street and 8th Avenue North, in addition to other lots around town and out of the downtown area, under various LLCs.

Pyade, 32, said he’s hoping for development to come back to the area and specifically the site of the former Pavilion amusement park — 12 mostly empty acres owned by Burroughs & Chapin Co.

“It may take a decade, easily,” he said. “I’m young. I’ve got time.”

In the meantime, Pyade said he’s trying to invest more in his properties and said he’d recently put in an order for 35 new stoves.

The Fountainbleau’s sign, however, is still damaged from Hurricane Matthew and a portion of the facade on the back side of the building had fallen off.

Pyade said profit margins from the motels are thin and that sign companies have been backed up since the hurricane. He declined to let a reporter and photographer see the inside of one of the Fountainbleau’s rooms Thursday.

He was nervous about a recent article in The Sun News on Thursday, saying that the reported mixed-use development across from the Diplomat has caused landowners to “triple their asking prices” in anticipation.

“Sometimes when people are overpricing something, it’s just going to sit on the market,” he said.

One other thing could bring great growth to the area, he said.

“I’m pro-gambling,” Pyade said. “I think it will only be good for this town.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News