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State lawmakers want ‘stronger relationship’ with China, but not through financial incentives

A view of Waccamaw Pottery and the former Hard Rock Park from the air in March 2015.
A view of Waccamaw Pottery and the former Hard Rock Park from the air in March 2015. The Sun News file photo

When Chinese investors arrive in Horry County next month to scout locations for a $100 million cultural village, they won’t be asking for any taxpayer-funded incentives.

State and local officials insist the project, which is described as similar to Epcot at Disney World, will not be eligible for economic development grants or tax breaks.

It doesn’t qualify for our incentives program.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus

“There’s no incentives money from the county,” said Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, who traveled to China with Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes earlier this year to meet potential investors. Half of the chairman’s airfare was paid for by the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC), a public-private entity that recruits industry.

Although Lazarus said the project will spur economic growth, the nature of the village and types of jobs created don’t meet EDC guidelines.

“It doesn’t qualify for our incentives program,” he said.

Officials have said the project will feature a building shaped like a lantern draped with silk. There will be restaurants and shows featuring Chinese entertainers as well as classes on cooking, paper cutting and calligraphy. The park is expected to open in late 2017 or early 2018.

About 20 investors are planning to visit the area in April. Lazarus said some of them have other businesses that they may bring to the area and those companies may qualify for government incentives.

Ahead of the investors’ visit, state lawmakers drafted a resolution in the senate to “express a commitment to a stronger relationship between the state of South Carolina and the People’s Republic of China.”

It’s kind of extending the hand of friendship, both at the local level, which Mayor Rhodes has done a wonderful job at, but also sitting at the state level, too.

State Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet

The resolution, which was presented by Sens. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, and Ray Cleary, R- Murrells Inlet, states that a tighter bond between the Palmetto State and China would “mutually enrich economic prosperity and establish a bridge between the two great countries.”

Cleary, who sits on the senate’s finance committee, said he’s not aware of any investor requests for financial incentives. He said the resolution is simply a gesture.

“It’s kind of extending the hand of friendship, both at the local level, which Mayor Rhodes has done a wonderful job at, but also sitting at the state level, too,” he said.

Rankin could not be reached for comment.

Although officials have said three locations are being considered for the park, the only one that’s publicly known is the former Hard Rock Park site near U.S. 501 and George Bishop Parkway.

Public records indicate Chinese investors have inquired about the tract’s owners, debt and development plans of the property, which hasn’t been a park since Freestyle Music Park, Hard Rock’s successor, closed in 2009.

Charles D. Perry: 843-626-0218, @TSN_CharlesPerr

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