Myrtle Beach to build library, children’s museum on superblock
The future of the superblock in downtown Myrtle Beach was revealed Tuesday as Mayor John Rhodes announced the city's intention to buy many of the lots on the block, tear them down, and construct a new library and children's museum.
“These two exciting projects share an exciting goal,” Rhodes said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “Revitalization of our central business district, and, as you know, we’ve been looking for ways to spur private-sector redevelopment.”
The plan would relocate the Chapin Memorial Library from its current location to the superblock, along with a branch of the Children’s Museum of South Carolina.
In an interview with The Sun News, Rhodes confirmed that the city had been looking at the superblock for redevelopment for “three or four years.”
“We were looking and determined to buy this section, if nothing else, to tear it down and open it up for space to have parking,” he said.
We were looking and determined to buy this section, if nothing else, to tear it down and open it up for space to have parking.
Mayor John Rhodes
City officials said that the owners of lots on the block were selling their properties willingly and at market value. The block, with several empty storefronts, has been the site of recent shootings and in response Myrtle Beach had moved to suspend licenses for two businesses — Pure Ultra Club and Natalia’s Bar and Grill.
“The very fact that you have this many property owners willing to sell voluntarily indicates they have been challenged,” Councilman Wayne Gray told The Sun News Tuesday.
But tenants and landowners gathered for the announcement, some of whom had sold without even knowing the city was the buyer, largely expressed distress. The development plan would move, and in some cases potentially destroy, their livelihoods, some shop owners said.
Lacy Paulussen, who owns House Parts LLC, a store at the edge of Nance Plaza, was anxious in the moments leading up to the news conference.
“It’s scary,” Paulussen said, crying as she waited for the announcement. “It’s my livelihood that’s tied to … not knowing.”
Allen Deaton, the owner of Beach Bingo, already entered a contract to sell to the city. He will relocate around the corner and said he is thrilled for the project.
But Paula Alitzer, the owner of a property on Ninth Avenue North, said on Jan. 19 that she was not satisfied with the price she sold her lot for. The amount was subject to a non-disclosure agreement, she said.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever really happy with the price. Heavens no,” she said. “I think if they do something really wonderful there everybody will wish they were one of the initial investors.”
Before the shooting in November, Nance Plaza had briefly grabbed the spotlight as the city approved the Plaza City Market series of street markets there, a mural painted on the wall of local photographer Jack Thompson’s studio and fresh plantings in the plaza.
The mural will go, along with the rest of the storefronts.
“We’re gonna be tearing everything down,” Rhodes told The Sun News.
Thompson said he felt like “the sky is falling — on my head.”
“For 60 years, I have been on every corner of Ninth Avenue [North], and I have spent all of those 60 years in love with Myrtle Beach, and photographing her and saving it for the future generations,” he said. “And I’m still holding. But I’m beginning to appreciate the sunset more than the sunrise.”
I’m beginning to appreciate the sunset more than the sunrise.
Photographer Jack Thompson
Many others who could be affected by the plan were left with even more questions about whether they would soon be forced from spaces that, in some cases, they had paid to maintain or improve. Myrtle Beach does not aim to buy all of the lots on the block, only those that front Nance Plaza, Ninth Avenue North and North Oak Street, spokesman Mark Kruea said.
But after the press conference, Rhodes hinted that more could come after the library and museum. “We’ve got to get this done first and go from there,” he said.
The announcement also renewed questions about the city’s motivations as it worked to combat crime in the area in the past months.
Plans to redevelop the area began to surface publicly last week when The Sun News reported on an email of Councilman Gray’s, an indication the city had been looking to buy lots on the block before a shooting that left five injured back in November.
The site of that shooting, Pure Ultra Club, lost its business license Tuesday and did not contest the decision as one of its owners, Hector Melendez, has been ill. But another bar that attempted an appeal also lost its license – Natalia’s Bar and Grill, owned by Natalie Litsey.
Litsey told city council shortly after the press conference that her business was doomed from the start as Myrtle Beach eyed the land for a different purpose.
The city of Myrtle Beach, the zoning personnel could have told me to look somewhere else instead of spending all my hard-earned money in this area.
Bar owner Natalie Litsey
“You guys [knew] about developing, redeveloping five points. A bar does not fit in that redevelopment,” she said just after the city revoked her right to operate her bar. “The city of Myrtle Beach, the zoning personnel could have told me to look somewhere else instead of spending all my hard-earned money in this area.”
In addition to closing the two businesses, Myrtle Beach suspended late-night parking in the superblock and mandated all bars and clubs there close at 2 a.m. Many business owners, including Victor Tataru, an owner of Club There, said the mandated closing time cut off the majority of their revenue.
Tataru had argued that his business, which was not the site of any recent crimes, was being unfairly punished.
“I’m speechless at this point,” Tataru said Tuesday.
Rhodes denied that the city had acted with the intent of making it difficult to run a business on the superblock.
“Those that are operating properly and not causing problems, then they’re gonna be in business,” Rhodes said. “They’ll be somewhere else, but the thing is, they will be allowed to go to another location and get a business license.”
“It’s called progress,” he added.
City Manager John Pedersen said that the city will try to help affected businesses relocate and could offer subsidies to cover moving costs. The city will also honor outstanding leases if a building sells.
Rhodes said the city will use its $10 million loan pool earmarked for redevelopment, in addition to $3 million in credit provided by the Downtown Redevelopment Corp., to build the new complex. A construction time-line for the museum and library was not available Tuesday. Architecture firm LS3P prepared initial drawings for the project.
“I hope the people of Myrtle Beach will welcome this new chapter in our vision for the city of Myrtle Beach’s growth,” Rhodes said.