MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A major announcement for the city of Myrtle Beach has sparked some concerns about how the project came to be.
Those concerns center around Tuesday's announcement that the children's museum and Chapin Memorial Library will move to the Superblock area.
"There have been questions about the method we used to acquire this property," Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen said. "This is a very common method if a particular public body has to assemble multiple properties in a location. That's almost always done through a third party. You don't want to disclose that the government is buying a particular area - multiple properties - because that very much influences the value people put on those properties."
Last April's budget retreat was when council decided the city needs a new library, Pedersen said.
After that, he said the idea of combining the library with a children's museum came up because the museum had previously expressed interest in building a new space.
From there, Pedersen said the city chose the Superblock due to the need for revitalization.
He added that part of the planning happened within a couple of months, which led to acquiring the needed land.
Project discussions happened in executive sessions because they involved property acquisitions.
"By law, you'll never hear a public body talk about whether it should acquire property or not acquire a specific property in public," Pedersen said. "The effect that has on the land value and state law recognizes that as an exception."
Mayor John Rhodes said votes are not made in executive session, but they are also not required for these sort of actions. He added the plan was discussed as it progressed.
He also said discussions began a couple of years ago about how to improve crime rates in the Superblock. At that time the idea was to buy the buildings, tear them down and open up the space to become public parking. Those talks, according to Rhodes, can stay private.
"It doesn't need to be out in the public," Rhodes said. "You don't discuss all of your business dealings in public even though we are a public entity. We have the right to discuss these in executive session to keep it to ourselves until such time we feel the public needs to be aware."
Pedersen said the prices for the properties could go up, so that is why the city didn't make the plan public.
"I believe it is the best method to use to make sure the city is paying a fair price, but it's not fair to the taxpayers to buy every piece of property that we have at a huge premium," Pedersen said.
Property owners only knew someone was offering to buy their building. Who it was remained a mystery.
"This is a common process, entirely legal process that we used to acquire properties," Pedersen said. "All of the properties we've bought to date were from a willing seller, with us as a willing buyer."
Pedersen added that being an undisclosed buyer is much better than using eminent domain because sellers would likely get less money that way.
"We are willing to pay a little bit more to acquire properties in a voluntary way than we are in eminent domain because that requires the hiring of lawyers on both sides, the hiring of appraisers on both sides and there's a lot of money that doesn't go to the seller," he said.
According to Pedersen, the property owners had the opportunity to negotiate.
"If you are a property owner and I ask you if you'd like to sell and you ultimately agree, on the back side I don't think how you could say that was unfair," he said. "There was no pressure. The boot of the government was not used to compel people to sell."
He added the sellers did not have to say yes.
"If at some point, if the price is completely unreasonable, then council has to decide if they want to exercise eminent domain to acquire that property or if they want to design around it," Pedersen said.
Rhodes said the majority of the properties sold so far have gotten 30 percent above market value. Both he and Pedersen agree the city went about this the right away.
"There's other ways we could have gone and those other ways would not have been ways the landowners would have liked or even the public," Rhodes said. "We tried to make things done the right way. I feel like that's what city council did and our city staff. We bought this property the right way. It was the way that was fair to everybody. It was fair to the property owner and it was fair to the city."
Rhodes added he thinks the city was open with the public as soon as it could be because a property was closed on.
"Yesterday was a time that we felt like we needed to lay out the plans for what we were going to do and why the property is being bought and how it's being bought. We did lay that out to the public," Rhodes said. "That is transparency. That is all the transparency that's required from city government."
Pedersen said Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation would have been on the record as the owner of the property after that closing, so that is why the press conference was held Tuesday.
The renderings that were presented at the announcement cost the city $1,200. They were done over the last couple of months and are not final.