On Nov. 7, two new Myrtle Beach City Council members were voted into office along with one incumbent. After running on various platforms regarding the Superblock properties, Gregg Smith, Jackie Vereen and incumbent Mike Lowder must work with current members Mike Chestnut, Mary Jeffcoat and Philip Render to decide what’s best for the area.
Currently, the plan for the properties has focused on a new children’s museum and library, but Myrtle Beach Mayor Rhodes recently announced that those plans are not the only options for the property.
“Right now we really don’t know,” Rhodes said. “It’s just been an option put out there for a library and a children’s museum. That’s not in concrete because City Council’s not voted on that. People have to understand that City Council has to vote on that project to begin with.”
If the plan moves forward as a children’s museum and library, the Superblock properties will be bulldozed to make way for the new buildings.
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The city already owns all but two of the properties, which were purchased by the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation between January and May. However, before a press conference in January announcing the plans, business owners who willingly sold their property suggested that they did not know that the city was the buyer.
Two properties, photographer Jack Thompson’s gallery, located at 503 Ninth Ave. North, and House Parts, LLC, located at 801 N. Kings Hwy, could be subject to eminent domain by the city if property owners do not enter into an agreement with the city.
Eminent domain is used when government entities want to take ownership of private land. The land taken must be intended for public use and land owners must be paid an assessed market value.
“We’ve not done eminent domain on the Superblock property,” Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach public information officer, said. “The plan is to not do it at all. There was a resolution offering it as an option. We continue to work with property owners.”
Now, the candidates of the mayoral runoff race – Brenda Bethune and Rhodes – are running on drastically different platforms regarding the Superblock properties.
If Bethune wins office, she plans on closing Main Street in downtown Myrtle Beach to vehicles, creating space for a park and focusing on urban living. Through her plan she hopes to draw in entrepreneurs as well as large businesses.
“With the number of visitors we get, it’s great to have that quantity, but if we’re not giving them a quality experience we’re going to lose them,” Bethune said. “It’s very sad to see that that is our welcome to Myrtle Beach message. It needs to be the hub of activity. Anytime you have a place that is thriving, it’s going to help with our crime rate.”
Here’s how the council members would vote on the Superblock properties:
Vereen does not think that a children’s museum and library should be built on the Superblock. Rather, she said that the building should be repurposed, but is not sure what exactly needs to go in that area.
“I think we need to revisit the referendum for the arts center since it was voted on by the citizens,” she said. “That would be an option that we could revisit and put downtown.”
As for a permanent decision, however, Vereen does not think that it is something that should be rushed into and that different options need to be weighed. She does think that the current Chapin Library needs updated, and that if a company wants to build a new children’s museum then they should front the money for it.
Smith is not sure what should go in the area, but is not opposed to a children’s museum and library.
“It doesn’t matter to me where the children’s museum and library go, but I do think that something big needs to be done to the area,” he said.
If something big is done to the area, then he believes that revitalization throughout the downtown area will follow.
“I don’t know what’s going to go down there but it needs to be big,” Smith said.
Over the past few years, Chestnut said that conversations have taken place regarding the Superblock and how to clean up crime in the area, but that nothing came to fruition because nothing was agreed upon.
“I know in the past there were several redevelopment committees down there,” Chestnut said. “The only way something is going to go in there, it’s going to take some public form such as a children’s museum and library.”
Chestnut is in support of the proposed plan, and thinks that eminent domain can be used in this situation.
“I don’t have a problem with it because I think it’s for the better good of the community,” he said. “If that’s what it takes to get the plan done. We can’t sit here another 30 to 40 years.”
When Jeffcoat ran for office two years ago she ran on the platform of revamping the library. Over the past two years she has attended meetings and workshops regarding downtown revitalization.
“In every successful attempt the city has to take the lead in a major development and the rest of revitalization follows,” Jeffcoat said.
She thinks that a children’s museum and library in the area would help to clean up crime and drive economic engines.
As for eminent domain, Jeffcoat believes that it should be the last resort that government uses.
“It’s part of a much more complex issue and trying to get the best for what we’re doing,” she said.
The Sun News reached out to Lowder regarding the Superblock properties, but he did not return multiple phone calls. During a City Council candidate debate at the Train Depot on Oct. 18 Lowder discussed the issue.
“We need to bring something into that area that’s going to create people going into that area during the day, and creating business in there because if you’ve got people going in and out of there around there during the day then the next thing that’s going to happen, it’s going to help businesses in the surrounding areas,” Lowder said.
He did say that he thinks a children’s museum and library could be built in the downtown area without touching the Superblock properties, but that “it may not be all of a bad thing if you put 41,000 people” who visited the library last year going in and out of the area.
As for eminent domain, Lowder said that he was one of two councilmembers who voted against its use on the Superblock properties.
Render, who said he voted against using eminent domain on the Superblock properties, said that he would like the see the current library rehabbed with an emphasis on a technology update.
For the children’s museum he said, “I’m open to exploring that. My feet are not set in stone.”
Rather, Render said he would like to see the already existing buildings rehabbed and create a business park. If there is enough space he said that he would like to see “medical entities or IT concerns locate as a catalyst in that area.”