Efforts to rejuvenate downtown Myrtle Beach reached a convincing milestone with a proposed partnership between the city and Coastal Carolina University to build a campus for its college of education plus an innovative lab school for children.
It’s the economic shot in the arm we’ve needed, with an infusion of more than 100 young professionals who will patronize downtown restaurants and shops.
Children attending daily classes at the lab school will breathe new life into downtown, while reaping the benefits of a K-8 education from highly qualified instructors and student pre-service teachers — all under the tutelage and presence of university professors.
The CCU Board of Trustees voted on Oct. 11 to move forward with this idea and draft an agreement with the City of Myrtle Beach to hash out the details, including the new campus location.
“A higher education presence in downtown will help create a vibrant city center,” said Edward Jadallah, dean of CCU’s College of Education.
“Education has historically been the key to advancing society,” Jadallah said.
Mayor Brenda Bethune has scored significant wins recently with the approval of the city’s master plan, establishment of an arts and innovation district plus a new performing arts center to host CCU’s theater program.
That’s in addition to the recent announcement of a brewery, a creative meeting space for community events and art classes, and the new professional office location of Mashburn Construction, which specializes in downtown renovation.
The reality is, Myrtle Beach cannot draw a Coca Cola or Bank of America and thousands of new jobs to downtown overnight.
It just makes sense to utilize our university — already a major economic engine for our area — and relocate some of that collegiate and learning atmosphere to the downtown corridor along with a new group of workers and consumers.
All of these efforts signal the city’s determination to make long-term commitments to see our downtown redeveloped, and that’s what is required to attract larger, private investors.
“We need to look at areas that have become blighted with abandoned buildings, and focus on maintaining the centerpiece of our community that can attract something great for residents and visitors,” Bethune said.
As Bethune noted, blight is contagious and the domino effect it can have throughout an entire downtown corridor needs to be contained and rehabilitated.
The campus itself will establish a committed core of urban renewal to attract the attention of new and exciting businesses, rather than the typical tourist t-shirt shops already plentiful enough.
CCU’s expansion of the college of education will accomplish that, while giving the university a unique visibility to our millions of visitors for future recruitment, Bethune said.
“The energy and vitality of these students and professors will breathe new life into the surrounding areas,” Bethune said.
“CCU will bring a host of new customers to small businesses in the area and provide a catalyst for future growth,” Bethune said.
If Myrtle Beach residents genuinely want a downtown with all of the character, charm, and amenities that will make us proud — where residents are drawn to live, and businesses choose to locate — adding this educational layer is essential.
We know this, because it’s the same story that’s playing out across the Southeast United States in Savannah, Durham, and Greenville, where revitalization efforts have succeeded when higher education components are incorporated.
It’s time for downtown to embrace the new generation and everything they have to offer, which can only strengthen our historic tourism base.
This new commitment between the city and CCU is exactly the spark we needed, and we believe it will ignite a remarkable transformation that makes us all proud.