A guitarist strums softly near a group of art students painting ocean views where the sand meets the green in downtown Myrtle Beach.
The smell of Hawaiian Tropic blends with the floral scent of roses as tourists mingle with locals strolling through an art museum’s sculpture garden.
And outdoor cafes are full of patrons dining beneath palmetto trees before catching the matinee show at the performing arts center.
None of this is yet a reality, but a glimpse of what’s in store for a revitalized downtown as Myrtle Beach enters the 2020s.
It’s what many in the public and private sector are working on to rebuild and rebrand a neglected and nearly forgotten downtown, to transform the area into an eclectic corridor of art, history, innovation, education, and commerce.
“We’re entertaining investors like crazy right now, and they see Myrtle Beach is a great value,” said Mayor Brenda Bethune.
“The fact that our entire downtown is two blocks from the ocean — that’s a major draw for them,” Bethune said.
A major draw, yes, but not the only incentive.
Myrtle Beach isn’t just waving the typical tax breaks that every town in America offers to any major employer willing to open shop.
The city is co-investing to create unique opportunities across downtown, like the proposed Coastal Carolina University (CCU) campus to educate future teachers, and an innovative lab school for K-8 school children.
Plus the performing arts center CCU will operate featuring musicals, comedies and drama productions from its theater department.
“Everywhere I’ve looked, the city had to make the first move, the first investment,” Bethune said. “We have to have skin in the game.”
“If we aren’t willing to do it, how can we expect someone else to come in and take the same risks, to have the same passion to be part of our renewal?” Bethune said.
The downtown has been plagued by blighted buildings, which for the most part sat empty after malls and major outlets like Walmart put Myrtle Beach’s Main Street and others across America out of business.
“We’ve gone decades without doing anything in that area, so I understand it may appear the city has no business leading this effort,” Bethune said. “But no one else stepped up to the plate over the past 20 to 30 years.”
“And now, we are seeing investors come to the table and things are really starting to happen,” Bethune said.
Get used to hearing about this, because downtown renovation is sure to be the primary goal of the new decade.
Countless news stories will detail the massive bureaucratic hoop-jumping required to get the job done, interspersed with announcements about new businesses and ventures coming to the area.
Bethune’s wish for 2020, is for Myrtle Beach residents to feel a sense of pride about their city, to get excited about what’s to come, and to see the city is committed to making these positive changes downtown.
“I think there is going to be critics, no matter what,” Bethune responded, when asked about criticism of the city’s efforts so far.
“We could have one investor come to the table and say, ‘I’m going to pay for all of this,’ and somebody would criticize it,” Bethune said.
“I’ve tried to look beyond that, because if I stay stuck on what the critics are saying, nothing would ever get done,” Bethune said.
“We are further along in the implementation of our master plan in less than one year than most cities are in five to ten years. And that’s a huge testament to the commitment of our city manager, our staff, our council, and the time and effort that we put into it,” Bethune said.
Simple policy changes that could benefit the culture and commerce of downtown, could also be a reality soon, like that guitarist on the green, and an art museum and sculpture garden.
Bethune signaled the city is willing to reconsider allowing buskers to perform downtown, so long as there are guidelines to ensure performers aren’t harassing folks or singing songs filled with profanity more befitting a bar full of sailors.
And, an art museum is also in talks about relocating to the arts district. Read more about that Wednesday in the Myrtle Beach Post.