How Myrtle Beach’s Market Common came into being

A recent topic of discussion is the use of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds for additional public projects at what we all know as the Market Common district.  For our newcomers, here’s some history and a timeline of the TIF district and the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority (RDA).  This will be a refresher course for you old-timers, who’ve lived here at least 20 years.

If you’ve lived here fewer than nine years, the Market Common district has always existed.  Sure, it’s grown, some of the businesses have changed, new neighborhoods have been added and expanded in the surrounding area, and additional parks and playgrounds have been built nearby, but The Market Common held its grand opening in April 2008.  If you’ve lived here more than 15 years, you know what a monumental effort it took to convert the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base into what we all enjoy today as the Market Common district.

When the federal government closed the Air Force Base in 1993 during the last round of military base closures, some of its 4,000 acres were transferred outright to local governments and public entities, such as Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Myrtle Beach International Airport.  The city, for instance, received the two recreation centers and Whispering Pines Golf Course.

What is the RDA?  The State of South Carolina established the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority (RDA) to oversee redevelopment and reuse of the base.  The RDA purchased the remaining property from the US Air Force and sold parcels to developers.  Proceeds from those sales were used to demolish outdated military buildings and pay for much of the public infrastructure that we now enjoy.  For example, the RDA built and landscaped Farrow Parkway and helped pay for the Grand Park Athletic Complex.

The South Carolina General Assembly also authorized Tax Increment Financing (TIF) legislation specifically to help with redevelopment of the military bases.  Local governments could not afford to tax their citizens to pay for the public infrastructure necessary to convert such large military installations to other uses.  TIF legislation allowed local governments to use “tax increment financing” to fund the roads, utilities, parks and more that would encourage redevelopment of such brownfield property.

In 1995, the city and the Redevelopment Authority came up with a plan for converting the former Air Force Base property into what you see today, generally known as the Market Common district.  The concept called for an “urban village,” with a town center, nearby neighborhoods, lots of park land and a walkable environment.  The goal was to create a place where people could live, work, shop, dine, play and exercise.  Using the TIF legislation created by the General Assembly, along with other financial resources, the city built the rest of the public infrastructure necessary for the transformation.

How can TIF revenue be used?  Under state law, TIF proceeds (the revenues from new property taxes created once the redevelopment begins) can only be used within the TIF district itself, or very near the district, and only in furtherance of the district’s redevelopment goals.  In our case, those public projects included new water and sewer lines to serve commercial and residential projects, new sidewalks and streets, new curb-and-gutter and stormwater drainage, Grand Park, two new parking garages, a fire station and more.  The city issued bonds to pay for these public projects, with the TIF funds as the repayment pledge.

So, how does redevelopment work?  It’s a very neat circle:  The city sells bonds to build public infrastructure, which attracts new residential and commercial development, which generates new property taxes that the city in turn uses to pay for the bonds.  Under TIF legislation, the growth in new property taxes from redevelopment is captured to pay off the bonds that helped create that growth through new public infrastructure.  The redevelopment literally pays for itself.  No one gives the city any money, and the property owners do not pay any extra taxes.

When the original TIF project list was put together, we did not know who, exactly, would live in the 5,000-plus new residences that would be built as part of the Air Force Base conversion.  Through the years, the master plan and project list have been amended to address specific needs.  One of the last projects placed on the TIF list was a public school, in case demand indicated a need for a school in the neighborhood.

As discussed in 2004, a three-story building on Shine Avenue was envisioned as a “community school” to serve 650 students in kindergarten through fifth grade who would be within walking distance.  But, by 2007, the plans showed that site on Shine Avenue as a parking area to serve adjacent office and commercial buildings.  The school wasn’t in the drawings.

Now, at least 10 years later, we know that fewer than 200 Horry County school students live on the whole 4,000 acres of the former Air Force Base.  Not enough to warrant building a “community school” at The Market Common.  Since the money generated by the TIF cannot be used elsewhere, a school anywhere near The Market Common would have to be related to redevelopment of the property.

That’s why the city proposes to eliminate the unneeded school from the project list and replace it with other public infrastructure to further the redevelopment effort.  Such new projects include water and sewer lines for currently undeveloped properties, along with new sidewalks and a new floor on one of the city-owned parking garages.  No private developer will receive money; it’s not allowed under state law.

How can the TIF revenues help Horry County Schools in the future?  The area has been successful enough that, if the city amends the list and removes the school, the city will be able to declare some surplus TIF revenue beginning in 2019.  At that point, the city could give the school district $1.2 million each year, with an annual increase thanks to the continued growth.  Best of all, that $1.2 million surplus per year would not be restricted to the former Air Force Base property.  The school system could use the money anywhere in Horry County.  In the city’s opinion, an annual surplus available for general use is more likely to benefit the Horry County Schools than a school at The Market Common.

For those of you who remember the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, this has been a brief reminder of how The Market Common and its surroundings came into existence.  For those of you who moved to Myrtle Beach for all that it has to offer, this – we hope – will provide some background on the immense teamwork and considerable investment that went into creating such a wonderful place as the Market Common district.  The transformation of the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base into what you see today has been hailed as a model project for the entire country.