MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The City of Myrtle Beach is moving the Children's Museum and Library to the Superblock next to Nance Plaza. City manager John Pedersen says demolition of that area could start in January. But first, the city still has to buy three of the 14 properties. A WMBF News investigation found how the city got this far and the plan to move forward.
The paper trail goes back to July 15, 2016. An email from Scott Taylor, the broker who would work on behalf of the city to get the properties that make up the Superblock, to David Sebok, the Executive Director of the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation, use phrases like "objectives," a "preliminary discussion" and "this important project."
City manager John Pedersen says the idea has an even earlier date.
"A couple years ago, the city council had a retreat," Pedersen said, "and we talked about a number of different things. We talked about, the need to revitalize some of the economically depressed areas."
That discussion centered around the desire to build a new library.
Less than a month later, an email sets a rough timeline for Project A, the Superblock development.
Taylor is given a six to nine month window to contact property owners about the sale of the spots, then contract those purchases for the city.
Taylor is doing the work under a $5,000 monthly consulting fee and six percent of every sale price as each property is closed. Documents show that ranges from $7,000 to $13,000 on two closings that happened in March and April.
"We spent less money in the long run, by using a professional to do the job as opposed to us going out an acquiring the property on our own," Pedersen said.
The WMBF News investigation found a concern over pedestrian safety once the museum and library are open. One idea floated was a cul-de-sac at 9th Avenue North and Kings Highway.
"It was something that we just looked at," Pedersen said. "It became clear to us it wasn't a good idea."
The city didn't want to mess up traffic flow, but in the discussion, Sebok said in an email, "This does make it harder to improve the pedestrian crossing of Kings Highway to and from the parking garage."
"There is an issue with the intimidation I would have as a father taking a child across Kings Highway," Pedersen said in an interview with WMBF News. "That could be perceived as a daunting task."
Pedersen said something like a pedestrian rest area in the middle of Kings Highway or the reduction of speed limit in that area are just two options the city is now considering as a fix.
The emails also show traffic in the area may improve when Highway 501 is realigned to the south. That's a $13.9 million dollar Horry County project in the design phase.
Less than a week before the January 24 public announcement of the project, Pedersen was in an email conversation that included Sebok, Taylor and others about the properties the city still didn't control. Pedersen brought up the idea of revealing the plan to the holds outs saying, "what do we have to lose at that point?"
That didn't work. The property owners are still holding out now. Pedersen also asked the team to avoid any discussion of "ED."
"When I wrote that, we certainly didn't want to get that out there, to imply a threat," Pedersen said. "We've been pretty clear from the beginning of the discussion on eminent domain, our goal is to acquire all of the properties voluntarily."
Pedersen made it clear eminent domain is an option, just not one the city wants to exercise.
"In this case," he said, "we believe that our offer is better going forward as a voluntary offer than it would be under eminent domain."
Just three days before the announcement, the DRC started working on a Q &A for the media to help clear up any questions on the day of the announcement.
Questions six was, "How will this be financed?"
Sebok's answer was, "..."
"We're still working on that plan and putting it together," Pedersen said. "It will still involve some sort of debt financing. There are grant opportunities that we're looking at and partnerships. So that plan is still coming together, and would have to be together before council gave this the final go ahead for construction."
Pedersen says the city is finalizing a request for proposal for architects to bid on. It would be up to that architect to come up with detailed cost estimates. He says it should be sent out in the next couple of weeks.
The city has hired an independent appraiser, Richard Odom, for the outstanding properties. The plan is to compare the appraisal that comes back over the next three or four weeks to the current offer and try again to buy the properties from the owners voluntarily.
As far as a funding source, WMBF News did ask Pedersen how big of an issue it is that Horry County took $200,000 out of its budget that was earmarked for the library. The decision was made in the middle of the debate over county residents paying to park in city limits.
"I don't think the two obviously belong in the same discussion," Pedersen said, "but yeah I can understand it coming up. It was a bit of leverage and it was perceived that way. Some of the county council members decided to exercise that leverage."
Pedersen says the city wasn't expecting that money to be in this fiscal year's budget anyway… and there is another year to get that funding from the county nailed down.
The WMBF investigation found Taylor was also tasked with looking into another area of the city. The work was called Project B.
"There was mention at one point in time," Pedersen said, "that again got dropped because it was related to that estimate that was more than I was willing to take to city council. All I understood what it was, was an amusement owner, didn't even get into the type of amusement, so I couldn't tell you, unfortunately."
Emails show the city was targeting eight properties in the area of 3rd Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard. The purchase price was going to be $6.1 million. Had the deal gone through, the city was reserving the right to tear down buildings.
Below you can read the emails, plans, agreements and other documents we obtained as part of our investigation: