MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes says it's time for Chinese investors to make their move, or he's ready to go in another direction.
"I've made these trips," he said in a phone call Thursday. "I've met with investors. It's time for them to put up the money."
Rhodes tells WMBF News he is preparing to bring a new group of American investors to the Grand Strand in March because of the lack of movement from the Chinese group. He says he started the process of looking for new investors in December of 2016.
"You've got 131 acres sitting there doing nothing," Rhodes said, referring to the former Freestyle Music Park.
The park is Horry County property right now, but Rhodes says the February 2016 trip to China that included Horry County Chairman Mark Lazarus proved the city and county can work together to get something done. Rhodes says the American investors would not be looking to create a Chinese cultural village.
"I've planted the seeds, laid it out on the line," Rhodes said of the potential Chinese investment. "Do something or don't say you're going to do it."
In an effort to find out who was backing the mayor's trips to China, WMBF News asked Rhodes about a line of his Statement of Economic Interests Report submitted to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission. It was a $3,500 business incentive trip paid for by Sinclair Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WPDE. Rhodes said that funded his trip to Budapest, Hungary in September of 2015 that was not for official city business. From Budapest, Rhodes went to Tiberias, Israel to celebrate it as Myrtle Beach's sister city, then he went to China for the economic development trip. The Israeli and Chinese portions of the trip were paid for by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Government according to Rhodes.
Chamber president and CEO Brad Dean says MBACC has paid for three trips to China, but its focus is not on luring investors. It is there to attend the China-U.S. Tourism Leadership Summit. Dean says his goal with each trip is to bring visitors to the Grand Strand.
Dean is actually hopeful things are moving in the right direction for Myrtle Beach tourism when it comes to China.
"While we're not an international destination today," Dean said, "we do expect one or two flights from China to our region this year. That will make it easier for Chinese tourists to get here."
Dean believes the Grand Strand could become part of what he called a "tour of cities" across the Southeast for Chinese visitors who are landing in Atlanta or Charlotte.
Atlanta will host the China-U.S. Tourism Leadership Summit, Dean says the MBACC will work to capitalize on having Chinese tourism officials in the Southeast.
As far as the Chinese investment, or lack thereof, Dean says he's aware of what is being pitched but the Chamber of Commerce is not directly involved.
The city of Myrtle Beach did pay the tab for Rhodes' 2016 flight to China, but Rhodes says the Chinese government footed the bill for the rest of the trip.
WMBF News has reached out to Chairman Lazarus in an effort to see where he stands on the lack of Chinese investment up to now, but calls haven't been returned.