What’s next for the Superblock? 2-day road trip takes council back to the drawing board

A two-day retreat to Columbia and Greenville gave Myrtle Beach city leaders ideas for what they would like to see in the Superblock and the rest of the Myrtle Beach downtown area.

On Friday morning, city leaders walked the streets of Greenville, touring parks and businesses that were built in an area that once housed a four-lane highway. The day before, city council members toured EdVenture, Columbia’s children’s museum.

Now, with a variety of options before them, including an arts district or a new children’s museum and library, city council members and Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune are headed back to the drawing board, hoping to finalize some plans.

“We go back to the table and prioritize what we want to do, put some hard costs to some of those priorities and look into some of the things they shared with us today and really get down to what is doable and what isn’t, and come up with a plan for what is the best place to start,” Bethune said.

Plans for the area were put in place last year, but the November mayoral and city council elections put them on hold.

Last January, former Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes unveiled plans to tear down the Superblock properties to make way for a new children’s museum and library.

The Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation was purchasing properties in the area to make room for the project, but two property owners refused to enter into the agreement and city leaders started making moves to force the owners to sell.

Now, there’s more options on the table.

Coastal Carolina University recently expressed interest in the building at 811 Main Street. The university hopes to move its performance arts center on 79th Avenue closer into the heart of Myrtle Beach. The college is also interested in acquiring more space for classrooms in the downtown area.

Before the retreat, councilors held a two-day meeting where they discussed the possibility of creating an arts district, adding a brewery or keeping with the plan of a new children’s museum and library.

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and John Pedersen, city manager, look over at the falls in Greenville. Megan Tomasic mtomasic@thesunnews.com

A downtown district

Most of the retreat was spent in Greenville, where city council members met with Greenville City Manager John Castile and Mayor Knox White. Councilors toured the downtown area of the city, which was revitalized in the 1980s, after plans were announced in the 1960s.

The downtown area went from a four-lane highway to a two-lane road that is now lined with shops, restaurants and some residential areas. In the middle of downtown, a park hosts a concert venue, a waterfall and bridges surrounded by hotels.

“I think Greenville is a great example of what our downtown can be,” Bethune said. “I think we have so much potential in our downtown Superblock area, and what we learned today by talking to the city manager, some of their economic development people, is that it takes a true public-private partnership, and that the government has to get involved to help be the catalyst, to be the driver.”

Bethune expressed interest in turning Myrtle Beach’s downtown into a walkable area with wide sidewalks and businesses close together.

“The walkability of the city is incredible, and the use of the older buildings combined with modern architecture and more modern buildings and the urban living spaces [is impressive],” Bethune said of downtown Greenville. “Having part of the businesses downtown is a great thing but you also have to have the arts district involved, things for people to do and places for people to live.”

However, revitalizing downtown Greenville came with some pushback from residents.

Castile said that many residents were opposed to turning a four-lane highway into a two-way road, but that “you’ve got to be committed, and you’ve gotta have the tough conversations.”

With the help of private investors, the city was revitalized, and is now working to keep the area nice by partnering with emergency officials and public works employees.

Myrtle Beach Assistant City Manager Fox Simons and Planning Director Carol Coleman were part of rebuilding downtown Greenville before moving to the beach.

“They know what worked, they know what didn’t work so well, and they can really help us through that process,” Bethune said. “They also know the people in Greenville that we need to reach out to for questions or for help moving forward.”

Councilman Mike Chestnut looks at EDDI, a 40-foot statue with a slide and places for children to play at EdVenture in Columbia. Megan Tomasic mtomasic@thesunnews.com

A children’s museum

On Thursday city council visited EdVenture in Columbia, where they toured different areas and learned how the museum can mix with the community.

“We have a vision for something that would really, really have service to the community like this museum has,” Karen Coltrane, president and CEO at EdVenture, said. “We really know that in Myrtle Beach, the area, the community’s building a welcoming culture around children with special needs, and when we figured that out we thought we really want to be a part of that.

“We would like to build a museum that was designed around exhibits from the ground up to accommodate families with special needs, to complement what’s going on in Myrtle Beach,” she said. “So that’s our dream and our hope.”

The museum in Columbia is filled with interactive exhibits ranging from a grocery store to a firetruck. The upper levels have a flight exhibit funded by NASA, a creative space and EDDIE, a 40-foot-tall statue of a child with a slide and crawl spaces.

EdVenture recently partnered with the Children’s Museum of South Carolina, located in Myrtle Beach.

“The fact that EdVenture is already managing a children’s museum in Myrtle Beach, I think the partnership is there, the shared services, the sharing of exhibits, the traveling exhibits, I think it’s a great fit,” Bethune said.

Bethune said that many people have misconceptions about children’s museums, “and until you really see it and you see the children interacting with their parents and learning, I think that’s when you get the real picture of the value of what this is.”

Because the project was controversial when it was announced, Bethune said that the key now is transparency and communication.

“I think as long as we keep the public and the businesses involved in what we’re doing and properly communicate vision, and what we heard today, it’s not just about having vision, it’s about having the strategic plan to implement it,” Bethune said.

Moving forward, Bethune said that the biggest challenge will be figuring out how to pay for downtown revitalization, “and that’s where a lot of planning and deep conversations will have to take place.”

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic