Teen venue at former Rivoli Theatre gears up for planned fall opening

As nearly 2,000 people prepare to participate in the sixth annual Dragon Boat Festival and race Saturday, officials from Ground Zero – the Christian youth ministry group that benefits from the festival – said they hope work will be complete on their new teen event venue in downtown Myrtle Beach by October.

The festival has served as a fundraiser for the group’s outreach – helping to pay for things such as bringing speakers to town for its impact worship series – but with renovation of the historic Rivoli Theatre nearing completion, money raised this weekend will benefit the building as well, said Scott Payseur, founder and executive director of Ground Zero.

“It’s coming along a lot faster than it had been,” he said.

Construction on the offices on the top floor of the building wrapped up in March, when Ground Zero staff moved in, and Payseur said a coffee bar at the main entrance should be ready to serve people in June.

Payseur said he’d hoped to open the teen venue last fall, but while the organization could accept volunteers of all skill levels in the beginning stages of renovation, the work that remains – such as the installation of production equipment – needs to be done by skilled workers.

“There’s not a whole lot that just anybody can do,” he said. “It’s a lot more specialized stuff.”

The Rivoli opened as a movie theater in 1958 and had served as a nightclub, children’s theater and live music venue before sitting empty for at least 15 years until Ground Zero came along.

Ground Zero, which was founded in the Myrtle Beach area in 2008, has been leasing the building from the city for $1 since June 2011 and volunteers and workers have been renovating the building since February 2012.

Payseur said the organization has done about $1.5 million worth of repairs and renovations to the building, which he said mostly has come in the form of volunteer hours and donated building materials.

They removed all but 12 of the theater’s original chairs and left the floor area open to accommodate as many different types of events as possible.

“We want to keep intact as much of the original building as possible,” Ground Zero community relations coordinator Sara Horner said.

In the fall, Ground Zero staff plan for the venue to hold events such as concerts, comedy shows, speakers and even skateboarders in the auditorium.

When there aren’t events, the venue will be a place for teens to spend time doing things that are positive, Horner said, such as playing video games and board games or just grabbing food from the café or coffee shop and socializing with friends.

“There won’t be any violent video games or games that simulate war,” Horner said. “Only positive video games.”

Payseur said while the venue is Christian based, it won’t be advertised as a space that’s only for Christian teens.

“We’re not a church or affiliated with any one church,” he said. “It’s going to be a Christian environment, but you won’t see anything in the building that puts our faith on display … Our ministry is done in relationships, not necessarily in faith.”

However, if there are teens who express interest in joining a church, Ground Zero staff will connect them with a youth pastor at a church near where the teen lives, Horner said.

Payseur said he hopes to hold a week of grand opening events in October that will invite public officials, business owners and residents into the venue to see what it’s become and what it will have to offer.

“Just a few more months,” Horner said. “I can’t wait.”