Myrtle Beach council exploring ways to fund performing arts center without raising taxes

Myrtle Beach City Council members on Tuesday discussed options to move forward with the construction of a proposed performing arts center that would not require them to raise taxes.

Almost 54 percent of city voters in November supported a referendum that allows the city to purchase $10 million in bonds to build the 650-seat performing arts center that would connect with the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. The referendum passed 1,915 to 1,641.

City Council members did not make a decision regarding the performing arts center. Budget director Michael Shelton said the decision does not need to be made before passing the budget, which is expected to happen Tuesday.

In order to pay that bond back, staff originally said the city would have to raise property taxes by 3 mills – in addition to the 3 mills council already has proposed to raise taxes this fiscal year to pay for 10 additional police officers.

Shelton said if City Council chose to delay the project by one year, they would not need to raise property taxes because the city will finish paying other debts – totaling more than $750,000 in annual payments – in fiscal year 2016.

Project architect Steve Usry of Usry, Wolfe, Peterson, Doyle said the $10 million budget will include about $8.6 million for building construction, $200,000 for the plans to be updated. The plans were completed in 2010.

“My concern is that the value of the plans we have diminishes if time creeps into this thing,” he said. “Not only do we lose buying power [with inflation of construction materials], but the value of what we’ve already done is less and less and less. ... I believe that time becomes our enemy.”

Usry added that he understood dealing with the violence seen on Memorial Day weekend takes priority for City Council.

“Everybody understand what the last couple of weeks have meant,” he said. “How can you conduct regular business with all of this going on?”

Shelton said the city would need to spend the $200,000 in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, but the city could “borrow from itself” by using money in the fund balance that is kept to handle the timing of cash flow. That money would come back to the city in

“I’m not concerned so much with the idea of our passing a resolution of intent and going ahead and beginning to make expenditures on this thing,” Shelton said. “It’s not [repaying] the debt service part of it that’s a scary thing, it’s the operation. It’s whether we’ll meet the projections in the plans.”

In April, staff and the arts community presented a proposed agreement that would be established between the city and the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board in which the arts community and the Myrtle Beach Convention Center staff both would manage the facility.

Under the agreement as proposed, the city of Myrtle Beach and the arts community would share the more than $436,000 operating budget of the performing arts center over a five-year period, according to the agreement.

Even with both groups sharing responsibility for funding the facility’s operations, however, there would be a shortfall of about $100,000 in the center’s fifth year.

For at least 15 years, arts supporters have tried to establish a performance venue in Myrtle Beach. After being unable to raise about $2.5 million to partially fund building the center with help from the city, board members asked City Council in 2012 to completely pay for the construction.

Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means, who has been a strong supporter of the project, said she worries that if council does not begin the project next year, it might never happen.

Jamie Broadhurst, who is on the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center board, said he also worried if the project was delayed for too long.

“As long as we’re able to sustain momentum, I think we’re okay,” he said.