Changes on horizon for Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp. Here’s what we know

City leaders discuss concepts for downtown Myrtle Beach redevelopment plan

City leaders have been debating what should go in the Superblock area of downtown Myrtle Beach, and on Wednesday the first conceptual plans for the area were revealed.
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City leaders have been debating what should go in the Superblock area of downtown Myrtle Beach, and on Wednesday the first conceptual plans for the area were revealed.

The Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation is on the verge of a restructuring that could result in its closing and reopening as a separate, more business-centric entity.

Chuck Martino, the DRC board chairman, said speculation about its closing is premature, but he is planning to present a potential restructuring plan to city council during its September 5 workshop.

Based on the city’s recently finalized downtown master plan, Martino said the commission was asked to look at successful redevelopment models in cities including Columbia, Charlotte, Greenville and Raleigh. In particular, it’s keyed in on Columbia’s Center City Partnership as a model it would like to emulate, he said.

The partnership’s website states that it “provides public space management, economic development, place management, marketing services, and public advocacy for the Main Street District” by focusing on “filling vacancies in commercial properties, retaining existing downtown businesses and recruiting new ones, expanding the downtown residential base, and creating a safe, clean, and friendly downtown environment.”

The corporation, which has been in existence for more than 20 years, has been involved in purchasing Superblock properties in downtown Myrtle Beach for future redevelopment and previously helped redevelop the boardwalk and Plyler Park.

Mayor Brenda Bethune said city leaders have been looking at other cities’ redevelopment efforts for the past 18 months, and a common theme they discovered was a partnership with the people who actually own the downtown properties. That group is able to focus on more than just revitalization, she said.

Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said she’s supportive of closing the DRC to create a model more similar to Columbia’s partnership, which operates more independently from the city with a stronger association to the downtown businesses.

She was under the impression that the DRC board voted during its most recent meeting to begin the process to disband, but Martino said that board members had just spoken about the possibility. There appeared to be a consensus among the board to move in that direction, but no vote was taken, he said.

City manager John Pedersen, who serves as DRC treasurer, confirmed Martino’s explanation.

Lauren Clever, executive director of the DRC, sent a letter to city council members Tuesday detailing the board’s recent discussions and indicating that they “seemed to favor a scenario where a new group could arise organically from the business and commercial community that would continue the enhanced focus on the downtown area.”

Clever also notes in her letter that she’s been discussing with Pedersen the possibility of incorporating DRC staff into the city staff “to ensure there is no gap in effort in the implementation of the downtown master plan that you have already initiated.”

All discussions are still preliminary, but Pedersen said that under that scenario, Clever and the other two DRC staffers would temporarily operate under the city manager’s office and report to him.

Clever told The Sun News that these discussions are all a positive movement and in no way indicate that the DRC has been unsuccessful or failed.

Pedersen and Bethune echoed that sentiment, noting that this potential move is just a natural next step.

Clever added that there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before the DRC board makes any final decisions, including how to deal the corporation’s finances.

Pedersen said the DRC’s bylaws direct all of its money to go to the city in the event of a dissolution. He didn’t immediately know that exact amount, but noted that the corporation’s main source of funding comes from parking fees, which generate about $2 million annually, minus the approximately $850,000 they pay to the company that manages paid city parking spots.

Bethune added that no decisions have been made regarding the future of those parking fees.

Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.