Republican presidential candidate debate shines national spotlight on Myrtle Beach

This is the third in a series of 10 articles that examine news events that shaped our area and captured our attention for better or worse in 2012, and look ahead at what developments await in 2013. If you missed one, read it at MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Coming Tuesday: Murrells Inlet’s Dead Dog Saloon burned to the ground and reopened in a short three months

It seems forever ago, but this time last year the Grand Strand was abuzz as it prepared to host another presidential primary debate after hosting two in 2008.

Once the decision was made in October 2011, members of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, the S.C. Republican Party and countless others worked straight through the holidays up until the Jan. 16 event, said chamber President and CEO Brad Dean.

“It was a challenge to win the right to host the event,” Dean said. “We started the process a month after the 2008 election.”

Dean worked with S.C. Republican Party Executive Director Chad Connelly to bring the Fox News-sponsored debate to Myrtle Beach this past January.

Dean said the debate brought a significant economic boost to the Myrtle Beach area in the off-season during a month that is historically the slowest of the year. The two debates in 2008 brought in between $8 and $10 million.

Dean said the benefit of having the debate in town was not as much about the money it would bring in through hotel stays and restaurants, but the free publicity that came with it. Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said the debates aren’t the biggest off-season events, but also said getting national and international exposure is extremely important.

“It’s name recognition that you simply can’t get in any other way. That benefit is almost incalculable,” Kruea said. “It’s the publicity that’s so key more so than the hotel room nights and the restaurant meals.”

Dean said he’s been happy with the way he said the community embraced having the debates in Myrtle Beach.

“Our community displays an unprecedented level of civic pride,” he said. “We provide big city services and abilities with a small town, welcoming atmosphere.”

Kruea and Dean both said they wouldn’t be opposed to hosting another debate in the future.

“Not only would we welcome the opportunity to host another national event, but I think we’ve laid the groundwork to host future events,” Dean said. “I think the community has earned a right to be on the short list of places to host [future debates].”

Dean said the chamber will wait to see what the benefits would be to hosting a primary debate – or even a general election presidential debate – in 2016.

“We’ve made it known that we want to be considered for future events, but we don’t host events just for the sake of hosting events,” Dean said. “We judge those events not only on the return on investment but also the scope of the publicity. Publicity is the gift that keeps on giving.”