By Dawn Bryant, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 14--A roller coaster would weave around hotel towers, an amphitheater, shops and restaurants on the site of The Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park if a developer's vision unveiled Wednesday becomes reality.
The city's Downtown Redevelopment Corp. and Pavilion owner Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc. moved a step closer to deciding the fate of the 56-year-old Pavilion landmark Wednesday when both backed California-based Webster Realty Investors as the park project's master developer.
B&C officials stopped short of saying they will move the amusement park -- a controversial step that has split elected leaders, residents and tourists. But they did say they are anxious to work with Webster leaders, the city and others to hone the idea.
Webster's $200 million vision for the Pavilion site includes the two hotel or time-shared towers, an amphitheater that could seat between 500 and 1,000 people, 210 residential units, six restaurants, shops, landscaped walkways and a roller coaster aimed at keeping some of the Pavilion's history. The original Pavilion building along the oceanfront could stay or go.
A bridge would take pedestrians over Ocean Boulevard.
B&C and Webster President Barry Landreth plan to take a more detailed version to the city's Downtown Redevelopment Corp. by year's end.
'This is not the final plan,' B&C spokesman Pat Dowling said. 'This is a concept he has. It's a good starting point. You've got a long way to go after today.'
Other ideas to 'wow' locals and tourists include a Bellagio-inspired interactive water exhibit, a NASCAR-themed roller coaster, a 3,000-seat performance theater, a Hollywood special-effects theater and a studio cinema for live broadcasts.
'We do intend to bring those types of programs here,' Landreth said after the meeting. 'It wasn't just a show today. It is backed up by the facts.'
Landreth said he has approached big-name stores and restaurants including Saks Fifth Avenue, Borders, Dick Clark's American Bandstand restaurant, Fox Sports Grille and Bubba Gump Shrimp.
Landreth has assembled a development team of a dozen consultants, lawyers, architects and financial experts. Some of them have ties to Las Vegas entertainment and attractions, including Bellagio's water show.
'It's mind-blowing, isn't it?' asked Myrtle Beach City Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means. 'Do I think it is a possibility? Absolutely.'
Officials didn't talk about how to pay for the $200 million project or whether the Pavilion would move.
'It's still kind of hard for me, a lifelong resident, to imagine Myrtle Beach without the Pavilion,' Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace said after the meeting. 'The Pavilion is still the symbol of Myrtle Beach. I want to see how plausible some of what we saw is.'
City leaders want to generate more year-round traffic along the beachfront by replacing the seasonal amusement park with development that would lure tourists and locals to the city's core even in the winter.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 people could mingle at any given time in the redeveloped site, Landreth said. About a million people visit the Pavilion during the four to five months it's open, Dowling said.
'This is a pretty critical point in the city's history,' Dowling said.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride doesn't want the Pavilion to move, regardless of the proposal.
McBride, who didn't attend Wednesday's meeting, doesn't like the idea of adding an upscale flair to what has built the beach through the years.
'It's absolutely ridiculous,' he said. 'We're Americana.'
B&C officials endorsed Landreth as an imaginative developer who has a proven record of bringing governments and businesses together for projects.
Webster has done similar projects in Long Island, N.Y., and Miami.
Landreth, a Clemson University graduate, has grown up vacationing in Myrtle Beach and still visits four to five times a year.
'I grew up going to the Pavilion, so I understand how difficult it is to make some changes here,' Landreth said.
Landreth's hour-long presentation didn't spark much discussion among Downtown Redevelopment Corp. members, who have talked about moving the Pavilion for three years.
He eased some concern by assuring members the redevelopment would happen in phases so downtown isn't left with a hole for the 18 months it would take to transform the site. No timetable has been set, though the change would start on the oceanfront block.
The city has been looking at downtown redevelopment plans for a decade, including a failed proposal to build amusement rides on a pier. A consultant has suggested the Pavilion move.
'Most people involved know it's just a plan, and it can change,' said Allen Deaton, a downtown property owner involved with early redevelopment ideas. 'That's why people don't get so excited.
I think it is a good concept. It's got the right components.'
Dowling stressed that other downtown business owners must buy into the idea for it to work.
'It's feasible, and it will bring year-round visitors into the area,' hotelier Karon Mitchell said. 'I don't really want the Pavilion to move. Sometimes change is hard.'
To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com
(c) 2004, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.
SKS, BGP, DCPI, FOX, NWS,