Popular festivals in jeopardy after Myrtle Beach DRC cuts $90,000 from Oceanfront Merchants Association file photo

Myrtle Beach’s Downtown Redevelopment Corp. is forcing downtown merchants to figure out if and how they will fund festivals that have been paid for out of DRC money.

The DRC board voted Wednesday afternoon to cut back $90,000 on the $260,000 it had been giving to the Oceanfront Merchants Association.

That move prompted an email Thursday from OMA president Chris Walker saying the funding cut will end Oktoberfest, Boardwalk Fright Nights and St. Patrick’s Day festivals in downtown Myrtle Beach. Additionally, he said it means the OMA will have to cut out other off-season events and concentrate its efforts on June through August.

Late Thursday afternoon, Walker said he was surprised by the DRC’s action, especially since it came in the middle of the OMA’s year and just as its busiest season was getting underway.

“I’m disappointed the way things were handled,” he said.

He put the onus on DRC executive director David Sebok for the funding cut, but Myrtle Beach city manager Tom Leath, who is the treasurer of the DRC board, said that is not fair.

Sebok could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Leath said the DRC needs the money it cut from OMA to focus on redevelopment of the Ocean Boulevard area south of the old Pavilion.

He said that the money could be used for the public/private development of parking lots in the area, but Walker said he believes the DRC wants to use it to buy land.

Leath said the funding issue was discussed at DRC’s winter retreat, at which time the idea of a Municipal Improvement District resurfaced.

The MID would be a special tax district where the money collected also would be used.

Leath said the MID had been discussed as a way to raise money for funding the Boardwalk, but it was rejected and then slipped from discussion until the DRC meeting.

Walker said he went to the retreat and never heard of the potential funding cut or the reemergence of the MID.

Leath said that he believes City Council would be unlikely to create an MID in the area if the merchants say they don’t want it, but the businesspeople still must figure out where they will get future festival funding.

“The bottom line is the OMA has got to figure out how the merchants are going to pay for (the festivals),” Leath said.

Walker said that the OMA already has commitments to suppliers and others for the festivals and those must be canceled along with the events.

He said that besides the $260,000 OMA has been getting from the DRC, it also gets approximately $130,000 a year from the city’s accommodations tax revenue.

Additionally, he said the OMA got about $310,000 each year from memberships, sponsorships, business contributions and revenue from Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day.

He said the OMA has been doing things, such as summertime fireworks, that benefit the whole city. The fireworks cost about $100,000 each year while staging Oktoberfest and St. Patrick’s Day run about $90,000 to $100,000 each.

Walker said he could have lived with the budget cut and adjusted OMA spending to account for it.

“If they would have told me this is what you’re going to have to work with, I’m fine with that,” he said.

Leath said that the funding cut will make the OMA analyze what’s important to it and decide how to fund it.

“Nobody’s recommending a MID at this point,” he said.

But the DRC has a finite amount of money it gets each year from parking revenue, Leath said, and the organization’s board has decided it needs to redirect it to other things.