Myrtle Beach looks to Superblock for performing arts center

Nearly five years ago, Myrtle Beach voters approved a referendum supporting a performing arts center next to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.  The referendum would have allowed the city to issue $10 million in general obligation bonds for construction (and a tax increase to repay the bonds), but the city has not done so.

Try as we might, the city has been unable to find a performing arts center plan that fits into a $10 million budget and doesn’t cost an additional $500,000 a year to operate.  The referendum was site-specific, therefore the city cannot take that authorization and move it to another location.  Any bonds issued for construction by the November deadline must be tied to the city’s property at the Convention Center.

The referendum’s authorization clock was good for five years, and that time runs out this fall.  Bonds would have to be issued by the deadline.  Since the city does not have an affordable construction plan, the authorization is only for the Convention Center property.  And, since City Council has had other, more pressing public safety priorities during the past five years, Council has realized that a performing arts center on the Convention Center property is not possible for that price and on that time schedule.

Nevertheless, hope for a performing arts center lives on, perhaps in the downtown area.  During the budget retreat a few weeks ago, Council members learned it may be possible to incorporate a smaller performing arts center in redevelopment plans for the Superblock.  Coastal Carolina University has expressed interest in partnering on such a project.

With that in mind, the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation has a tentative contract to purchase three properties on Main Street, subject to a 120-day examination period and other reservations.  If completed, the purchase would include the former movie theatre.   Much work would be required to convert it into a modern performing arts center to be utilized by CCU and the public, but it would be a team project.

Together, the city and CCU could bring a positive change to the area, along with a relocated library and children’s museum.  Several hurdles need to be jumped before any of this becomes reality, though.  First, CCU’s board of trustees must approve any agreement and plan for a theater or other investment in the Superblock.  Second, the city is seeking a consultant to study the Superblock area and propose a more comprehensive way of developing what’s been described as an “arts district.”  Third, City Council needs to approve any redevelopment plan and take actions necessary to fund such projects.

The Superblock area study will take approximately six months, which means that Council may have a plan to consider by the end of 2018.  The performing arts community is aware of the referendum issues (construction and operating cost) and that the clock has run out on that location.  Council is optimistic that a plan may be developed with CCU that will result in a performing arts center that the community can share with the college.  What the university originally suggested is a much smaller theater than what the performing arts community desires; perhaps the city and university can reach a middle ground in terms of size, number of seats, amenities, etc.

To summarize, it’s very likely that plans for a performing arts center will not be realized at the Convention Center.  The city does not have a plan that fits the $10 million budget, the authorization granted by the referendum (set to expire in November) and the referendum was site-specific.  However, City Council is enthused about the prospect of a modern theater and performing arts center located on Main Street, in conjunction with Coastal Carolina University.  The topic is all part of an ongoing conversation among city leaders, residents and community members, and many details are yet to be decided…  Stay tuned!  We may have redevelopment details and a construction plan for the Superblock in 2019.