Broadway at the Beach still booming after 20 years

Beach Rider Jet Boats are one of the many amusements available at Broadway at the Beach.
Beach Rider Jet Boats are one of the many amusements available at Broadway at the Beach.

Broadway at the Beach has spent the last 20 years entertaining tourists, providing attractions to locals and changing the face of tourism in Myrtle Beach.

Officials expect the next 20 years to be just as great, if not better.

Broadway at the Beach reinvented the way Myrtle Beach locals and tourists shop, dine and play over the last two decades. The complex – which includes several theaters, dozens of restaurants and several big-name attractions – opened in May 1995.

Since then the complex has added new attractions, stores and eateries every year and still has plenty of land left for expansion.

Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., which developed and owns Broadway at the Beach, announced plans for the entertainment complex in 1993. Construction began the next year, with a grand opening on July 4, 1995. The complex grew every year and continued to bring in new businesses.

“We wanted it to be the center for fun, shopping, dining and family entertainment,” said Doug Wendel, who was president at B&C when Broadway opened. “We wanted it to have a little bit of everything, and we wanted it to be different than any other place you would go to.”

The complex is separated into eight different “communities” that have distinct aesthetics. Both “New England Fishing Villages” have gabled roofs and wood siding, while the “Caribbean Village” stores have stucco, tile roofs and pastel-colored walls. Each section was carefully planned and the results have fulfilled B&C’s expectations, Wendel said.

The only major change was the addition of amusement rides about seven years ago, Wendel said.

“We didn’t go heavy with amusements because we still had the Pavilion Amusement Park,” he said. “After that closed we started to intensify the amusements, which has changed the appearance a little bit.”

Twenty years later, Broadway tops many tourists’ list of things to do.

“Broadway at the Beach is proud to be the No. 1 visited attraction in South Carolina,” said Jim Powalie, Broadway’s general manager. “Broadway will continue to be the center of fun for Myrtle Beach visitors and locals.”

‘Would it work?’

The biggest hurdle B&C faced in building Broadway was convincing city, county and state leaders that an attraction could work several miles away from the ocean.

“Our risk was ‘Would it work?’” Wendel said. “Once we opened the first stage, and it turned out to be a massive success, then everything else was easy.”

The complex sits on 350 acres and has room to grow. Robert M. Grissom Parkway didn’t exist when Broadway opened.

“The whole intent was to create a center of activity that you could develop around,” Wendel said.

Hard Rock Cafe and Palace Theatre were the first big anchors in the complex. The first construction stage built a horseshoe from Celebrity Square to the “Generations at Play” fountain on the east side of the complex, Wendel said. After the initial stage was successful, officials kept adding stores, attractions and a hotel.

“Everybody wanted to be a part of it,” Wendel said. “And they keep coming; every time something turns over we build something new.”

Broadway’s ability to pull in big-name attractions – such as Ripley’s Aquarium and WonderWorks – is quite a feat for a town of 30,000, according to Myrtle Beach city spokesman Mark Kruea.

“Broadway is a great resource, not just economically but entertainment-wise, for locals,” Kruea said.

The complex gives locals the year-round benefit of shopping, entertainment and dining in one place – even during the slower winter months. Broadway allowed the tourism season to continue all year, Kruea said, even when the weather didn’t permit beach fun.

“Broadway brought winter, spring and fall activities to expand our attractiveness,” he said. “It really was our first year-round destination.”

Broadway 20 Things
Claire Byun

‘It changed everything’

Before Broadway at the Beach opened in 1995, the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park and Ocean Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach were the hubs for tourists.

The addition of an entertainment complex pulled some tourism from the boulevard and Pavilion, but Wendel said Broadway attracted more tourists to the area overall.

“Though it hurt some businesses, it brought more tourists in to feed all the other businesses,” he said.

The new attraction forced other businesses to diversify their own operations, which led to development in the Ocean Boulevard area over 20 years, Wendel said. In 1995, the boardwalk was concrete and only two blocks. The 1.2-mile long boardwalk and promenade opened in 2010.

“It wasn’t anything like what we have today,” Kruea said.

The old Pavilion Park used to be a magnet for tourists during the summer, but Broadway gave visitors another option. The complex also created competition between several other tourist destinations, which caused many businesses to “raise their bars,” said Myrtle Beach city councilman Wayne Gray.

“It certainly pulled folks away from other tourism areas, such as the Boulevard, Barefoot Landing and the MarshWalk,” Gray said. “But that’s good business competition.”

Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the Boardwalk, said Broadway became an “economic magnet that improved the community.” Rather than pull tourists away from the multi-level gift store, Broadway’s opening increased Plyler’s businesses by 3 percent.

“It just gave people more to do and it gave them more reasons to come to Myrtle Beach,” Plyler said.

Broadway brought in a “more upscale demographic,” Plyler said, which allowed them to charge higher prices than many places on the boulevard. The increased costs allowed for some boulevard businesses to profit off cheaper-minded visitors, Plyler said.

While Broadway may attract more upscale visitors, the boulevard can boast two new tourist destinations: the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel and I Love Sugar candy store.

“Win, lose or draw, I think the newest attractions have chosen the boardwalk for a reason,” Plyler said.

“Almost everyone who comes to Myrtle Beach comes down to the boardwalk,” he added.

Broadway’s development was good for Myrtle Beach as well, city officials said.

The popularity of the entertainment complex led the city to pave Robert M. Grissom Parkway – formerly Central Parkway – and allowed for a “center city redevelopment TIF” for improvements to Booker T. Washington area infrastructure, Kruea said. Development also spread elsewhere in the county, especially along U.S. 17 Bypass.

“The development you see down U.S. 17 and down Grissom Parkway are related to Broadway, definitely,” Gray said.

A different type of attraction

Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery opened in November 1995. Twenty years later the restaurant remains in the same centric location at Broadway, complete with outdoor dining and an indoor brewery. Chris Sobota, original general manager of Liberty, said the eatery was the first non-chain restaurant in the complex.

“We were also the first brewpub in South Carolina, so that made us stand out,” Sobota said. “It just grew from there.”

Sobota said Liberty’s central location – near WonderWorks and across from Celebrity Square – contributes to the restaurant’s 20-year success. That, and the ever-changing menu offering unique, home-brewed brewskies, Sobota said.

“The restaurant’s first menu came from when opening management would sit around after work, drink beers and toss around menu ideas,” Sobota said.

Unique offerings have kept several other Broadway attractions relevant throughout the years. Retro Active, a store specializing in 1970’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s gear, offers something different to tourists seeking souvenirs.

“A store like this would not work in a non-touristy area,” said owner Amy Leonard.

Leonard, who visited Myrtle Beach often before opening her store 10 years ago, said Broadway’s mix of locally-owned stores and well-known anchor attractions offers activities for all ages – especially tourists who spend days just walking the complex.

“There’s always foot traffic, and there’s always something for everyone to do,” she said. “The only thing you can’t do is swim.”

Retro Active survived the Great Recession when many stores closed for good, Leonard said. One of Broadway leadership’s strengths has been replacing closed attractions with something new and creative, she said.

“They’ve been really good about bringing in something the area doesn’t already have,” Leonard said.

“Broadway is just so different than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Hopes for the next 20 years

Twenty years later, Broadway at the Beach pulls in millions of visitors every year and gives locals another option for shopping, dining and entertainment. Officials hope the complex continues to pull in big-name attractions and unique experiences.

“We are continually on the lookout for potential future tenants that could enhance our guests’ experience and that would be a good fit for Broadway,” said Powalie, Broadway's general manager.

Gray expects Broadway’s next 20 years to be better than the previous ones.

“They do a good job of continuing to invest in the property and bring in new ventures,” Gray said.

With plenty of land left for development, Gray said B&C will likely spread across Grissom Parkway in the next few years and create additional attractions for locals and tourists.

“I’m sure they’ll continue making it an appealing and attractive destination in Myrtle Beach,” he said.

Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 and follow her on Twitter @Claire_TSN.

20 things you didn’t know about Broadway

Broadway at the Beach has become a familiar name and place for locals and tourists in the 20 years since it opened. But here are 20 facts you might not know about the entertainment complex:

▪ Lake Broadway was initially stocked with 29,000 fish. The fish eat 34,000 pounds of fish food annually.

▪ The city of Myrtle Beach owns Celebrity Circle, the road that loops the entertainment complex.

▪ Liberty Brewery & Grill, one of the original tenants at Broadway, was one of the first brewpubs in S.C.

▪ Hard Rock Cafe, with its pyramid-shaped building, was Broadway’s first big anchor.

▪ Lake Broadway totals 23 acres.

▪ Broadway won the S.C. Governor’s Cup for tourism in 1997. The Governor’s Cup, given annually by the S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism department, is given to the state’s best travel destination.

▪ The complex sits on 350 acres with more land for future development.

▪ Broadway hosts 30 fireworks shows every year and explodes nearly 100,000 shots over the lake by year’s end.

▪ “Radio Broadway” is the complex’s very own pre-recorded radio station.

▪ KISS, Lee Ann Rhimes, Joan Jett and Bill Cosby all performed at or visited Broadway.

▪ Wee R Sweetz produces an average of 650 pounds of taffy a day.

▪ Dragon’s Lair’s 30-foot animatronic dragon is named Sir Alfred. The dragon, a signature at the miniature golf course, regularly emerges from atop the course’s castle talking and spitting fire.

▪ Palace Theatre was originally called “Carolina Palace” – officials dropped “Carolina” so it wouldn’t be confused with another local live theater, the Carolina Opry.

▪ Broadway’s amusement area – “Pavilion Park” – opened after the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park closed for good along the oceanfront and Ocean Boulevard in 2006. Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., which owns Broadway, also owned the Pavilion downtown.

▪ Pelican’s Ballpark, Hollywood Wax Museum and Legends in Concert are all considered Broadway at the Beach.

▪ In May 1998, B&C canceled “The Village People” concert during the ‘98 Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival; officials said the festival “endangers the ‘traditional family values’' on which it is based.”

▪ Broadway developers originally planned to build at least four live theaters, but that didn’t pan out because the theater market had become saturated, B&C officials have said. Broadway is home to two live theaters, the Palace and Legends in Concert.

▪ Sen. Strom Thurmond was one of a number of officials who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in September 1995. Others who attended: U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and Grace McGown, then-director of S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

▪  The bronze statues featured in the “Generations at Play” fountain, near the visitor’s center, took eight months to complete.

▪ Dinosaur statues created from wood and plastic paint by Garden City Beach artist Shane Goosman.