Myrtle Beach council still working to fit new sand volleyball facility into budget

The Myrtle Beach City Council is working to find a way to wedge the construction of a new sand volleyball facility into the city’s already tight budget to serve as home courts for a proposed women’s beach volleyball team at Coastal Carolina University and other events.

“I think we’ll work to get it in the budget,” said Councilman Wayne Gray. “We can look at some options in the capital improvement plan and maybe delay another project by one year.”

A volleyball facility would have advantages for the city, in addition to the benefits of partnering with CCU on a new sport, Gray said. It would be used for the city’s sports tourism efforts and by locals when unoccupied, and also would provide oceanfront parking for residents when the courts were not in use, he said.

CCU asked the city to help build nine sand volleyball courts on vacant, oceanfront land at Pebble Beach, just south of Damon’s Grill on South Ocean Boulevard. The courts could host a number of events, including college matches and tournaments. About 40 universities already offer NCAA women’s beach volleyball, and CCU has expressed interest in starting a team that could call the facility home.

The original plan was to have the nine courts and 230 parking spaces at a cost of $263,000. The plan later was refined to meet NCAA standards, increasing the cost to $355,300 and decreasing parking to 175 spaces, according to the presentation given at the council’s April retreat.

The first cost estimate was for a more casual, nonprofessional beach facility and was made before planners realized beach volleyball is recognized by the NCAA, said Assistant City Manager Ron Andrews. They researched NCAA court specifications – such as the depth of the sand and the material underneath the sand – that are required for a facility to be certified for competition, and those adjustments increased the cost, he said.

“It will get to a time when [the NCAA] will need a national championship,” said Andrews, explaining the need to have a certified facility. “It’s real possible we could get a regional tournament.”

Andrews said the administration is using all the comments it received at the council’s retreat to develop a plan recommendation. He said ideally, a plan will be presented at the second council meeting in May so there will be time to make adjustments. A budget must be in place by July 1.

Matt Hogue, CCU’s interim athletic director, said the university is continuing to explore adding a women’s beach volleyball team, but there is a process that must be followed that is separate from any discussions on local facilities.

“It offers exciting possibilities, and it’s something we’re looking at very closely, but there is no timetable for adding the sport,” Hogue said. “We’ve established collaboration with the city and the [Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce], and we welcome more collaboration.”

Hogue said the university would have to conduct a student interest survey and see if adding a team would make sense with any collateral costs. CCU already has a women’s varsity indoor volleyball team, and he said adding a beach volleyball team could be expedited because it would have the same players and coaches.

Hogue said the NCAA considers beach volleyball as an emerging sport, but it’s not a full-fledged championship sport. The University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston have beach volleyball teams, as well as universities such as Florida State and Stanford.

“It’s very much a new type of sport that a lot of schools are taking a look at, but it still has to mature,” Hogue said. “It will not reach legitimacy unless it can offer a championship.”

Councilman Randal Wallace said this is a tough budget year, with a lot of issues still to be sorted out, but the city is looking at ways to shuffle projects to get the facility plan moving.

“This is an idea we’re excited about,” Wallace said, “and we don’t want that opportunity to pass by.”