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'This is a game changer': New federal program to help redevelopment along Grand Strand

A new federal program is set to help low-income areas along the Grand Strand.

The program, known as opportunity zones, provides tax incentives to encourage long-term private investments.

During a news conference Friday morning, Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune announced two tracts in the City of Myrtle Beach that will benefit from the program.

"It does include the Superblock area, and basically the two zones that were chosen for Myrtle Beach were from 21st Avenue North to 3rd Avenue South from Hwy 17 Bypass to Ocean Boulevard," Bethune said. "It includes Withers Swash, it includes the Booker T. Washington community and these are areas that we all know need a lot of focus on, including the Superblock."

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Mayor Brenda Bethune announces 'opportunity zones' for the Myrtle Beach area in a press conference on Friday. March 23, 2018. This zone, known as the Pavilion/Superblock tract runs from 21st Avenue North to U.S. 501, connecting along U.S. 17 Bypass and the ocean. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

There are four designated tracts in Horry County outside of Myrtle Beach. One is the Aynor/Cool Spring area with a population of 2,491. Another is in the Loris area with 5,277 people. The last two are in the Conway and Homewood region that covers 7,615 people.

When applying for the program earlier this month, Myrtle Beach Assistant City Manager Jonathon Simons said the city was sending in a joint application with the City of Conway and Horry County.

"This is a very collaborative effort between the county and the city," Simons said at the news conference. "It's a great opportunity for the community. We're very excited and ready to get going."

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Mayor Brenda Bethune announces 'opportunity zones' for the Myrtle Beach area in a press conference on Friday. March 23, 2018. This zone is known as the South Ocean Boulevard tract and includes the Booker T. Washington community and Withers Swash. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com

The announcement comes after a year of controversy surrounding the Superblock area after former Mayor John Rhodes announced the possibility of using eminent domain to build a new children's museum and library.

During that time the city had purchased several of the properties to make way for the new development, but were unable to obtain two, House Parts, LLC and the building housing Myrtle Beach photographer Jack Thompson's studio.

The last election put a stop to the plans for the area with the election of Bethune, ousting Rhodes who sat in the mayor's seat for 12 years.

"The fact that we are given this opportunity to make this available for investors to partner with us is huge and it really helps the city take all of the planning and the vision that we've been working on for the Superblock area and the other areas of the city where we do want to clean up, improve, to attract businesses who want to invest here, this gives us an avenue to do that," Bethune said.

When asked what the program means for the Superblock, Bethune responded: "It takes it from being a vision and a dream to a reality."

"Myrtle Beach is growing and this is the outlet that is going to help us get there," she said.

What are opportunity zones?

The program was created by President Donald Trump as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Areas across the country sent in applications, which were then approved by governors.

When state officials paired down the list of potential sites, McMaster said, they ended with 135 in South Carolina. There were 538 census tracts determined to be distressed or severely distressed, and federal law allows a governor to designate 25 percent of those areas for the program.

To be distressed, an area must have a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater and a median family income of 80 percent or less of the area's median family income based off of census information.

To qualify as severely distressed, an area must have a poverty rate of 30 percent or greater, a median income of 60 percent or less of the area's median family income and an unemployment rate of at least 1.5 times the national average, based off census information.

In Horry County, the median family income is $52,100, according to 2017 numbers on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

“Every city, municipality or county got at least their first or second choice,” McMaster said.

The list will be submitted to the Department of Treasury for approval.

Officials also noted how the program is designed for private partnerships, and the longer someone invests, the greater the tax return. Many of the areas are rural, though some are less affluent areas of municipalities.

“We wanted to look at tracks where we could have the best amount of success,” South Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Robert Hitt said.

When explaining the program Bethune gave this example:

"Let's say that someone has a million dollars sitting in an investment account that they can't pull that money out because of the capital gains. What this does is it allows them to take the money out to invest it in an area, whether it's a neighborhood, the Superblock, wherever they choose that they want that investment to be and they can keep that money there for a longer period of time, and at the end they only pay the capital gains on the initial investment. So, any money that they make on top of that in the profit that they make, they don't pay capital gains on that, it's only on the initial investment."

Bethune said she is working to bring Sen. Tim Scott to the area to meet with potential investors and to explain the program.

“We are very excited to see this program unveiled," said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is a game changer for economic and community development in Horry County, including downtown Myrtle Beach.”

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