How a soon-to-be-vacated church might help spur Myrtle Beach downtown redevelopment

First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach.
First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach. jbell@thesunnews.com

The First Presbyterian Church in downtown Myrtle Beach soon could be used by the city for office space if officials decide to purchase the land and building for $2.8 million. The goal is to help spur downtown redevelopment.

According to Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen, City Council is toying with three different options — renovate the City Services building and the City Hall Annex, demolish the buildings and build new ones or purchase and renovate the church, moving offices into the space.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Pedersen plans to to recommend entering an option to purchase with church officials, located at 1300 N. Kings Highway. With this option, the City Services building and the City Hall Annex would be demolished, moving the housing authority into the church. Services are still being held at the downtown location, but they will soon move to a new spot along Grissom Parkway.

The option agreement means the church owners cannot increase the price of the property while council makes a decision. The option agreement runs through the end of the calendar year, but officials will pay $5,000 a month to hold the agreement.

The Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation, which is located in the Superblock, would also move into the church. The indigent defenders office, which is in a rented space that costs the city about $18,000 per year, would move into extra space in city hall.

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“They need to sell it by then if at all possible,” Pedersen said. “They have not wanted to make it available for commercial use. It’s kind of a landmark building in Myrtle Beach with a lot of history and a lot of sentimental attachment, but their expiration for not selling it commercially is the end of the year.

“At the end of the year, they’re willing to sell it to whoever has the money and wants to buy it, if that’s a beachwear store, if that’s some other use.”

If City Council moves forward with the plan to purchase the church, Pedersen said 14th Avenue North would be closed and turned into a parking lot. Part of 13th Avenue North also will be shut down and turned into parking, next to the Aquarius Motel, giving the downtown area 163 more parking spots.

Pedersen said the lot at 13th Avenue North would be turned into paid parking on the weekends.

In order to pay for the church, officials would enter into a general obligation bond, Myrtle Beach chief financial adviser Mike Shelton said. The bond would be financed as city debt is paid off.

By 2019, the city will be in about $40 million worth of debt from general obligation bonds, Shelton said. By 2023, the city will have paid off almost $11.7 million, freeing up money to purchase the church, he said.

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At that time, council could decide to renovate city hall, which would cost about $575,000.

“The question is, can we renovate the building, First Presbyterian Church, for $3.8 million? And the answer to that is I don’t know,” Pedersen said. “But what is also on the agenda is that we engage an architect so the architect can help us with that and help us to make an estimate so we can make an informed decision.”

However, City Council could choose to renovate the City Services and City Hall Annex buildings, which would cost, in total, about $6.6 million. It would cost about $15.6 million to build new buildings on the already owned land.

How could the plan help spur downtown redevelopment?

For Pedersen, demolishing City Services and City Hall Annex would free up space for new developments.

“My plan would be to hold it for a development opportunity, but we do not know what that development opportunity is right now,” Pedersen said. “But if somebody comes to us and they want to put housing in for the type of housing we would hope to attract downtown, then that would be a place that we’d put it.”

The goal is to create anchors throughout the downtown, meaning attractions and areas where people want to go.

Pedersen said the boardwalk acts an anchor already in place. A plan to create an arts district in the Superblock would be another and restoring the church could be a third.

Moving forward on the arts district depends on when the downtown consultant is finished doing an analysis of the area, Pedersen said, which has been pushed back to February due to Hurricane Florence and delayed meetings with stakeholders. The analysis was originally set for completion at the end of the year.

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“If we are working on redeveloping the downtown, we would think having acreage that you could assemble in the area you’re trying to renovate is a good thing,” he said. “But we don’t have a plan. It’s too early to project whenever that plan would come to fruition, if it would involve us owning the property or selling it, but either could happen.”

City Council will discuss their options during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

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