WMBF Investigates: What's next for the Superblock?

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - One year after officials announced the redevelopment of Myrtle Beach's Superblock area, work has still not begun, new city leaders are in place and the project is in limbo.

Still, this uncertainty hasn't stopped the leader of EdVenture Children's Museum in Columbia from believing the day will still come that a world-class children's museum will open in the Grand Strand.

"We're delighted to be wherever the city of Myrtle Beach thinks that we can be of service and work well for the community," Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of EdVenture, said.

The largest museum for kids in the southeast, EdVenture merged with Myrtle Beach's Children's Museum of South Carolina last year. The plan was to build a new, bigger museum in the Grand Strand.

"So, the city actually approached us and said, 'Hey our library needs a new place. Would the library be a good partner for you?' And we were like, 'The library's a great partner for EdVenture because look at our logo. We have a book in it,'" Coltrane said.

On Jan. 24, 2017, former Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes announced Chapin Memorial Library and the EdVenture/Children's Museum of South Carolina partnership would relocate to the Superblock area near Nance Plaza in downtown Myrtle Beach.

Information provided by the city shows the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation spent roughly $2.96 million to purchase the Superblock property.

On top of that, the city paid $85,000 in consulting fees between August 2016 and December 2017, according to a breakdown of funds the DRC has spent so far.

All told, the project cost $3,421,350 for acquisitions, plus roughly $8,500 went to Environmental Service Group for an inspection and more than $1,800 was spent for conceptual drawings and renderings.

To see a breakdown of what has been spent so far on the Superblock project, click here.

When it was announced, the project was met with controversy almost immediately. A big source of contention was the use of eminent domain for the city to acquire the few remaining properties it doesn't already control.

Last February, the Myrtle Beach City Council approved the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties if a price couldn't be reached between the seller and the city.

"We've been pretty clear from the beginning of the discussion on eminent domain that our goal is to acquire all the properties voluntarily," city manager John Pedersen said at the time.

Despite the controversy, the project seemed to move along. Then, suddenly, everything stopped.

Late last fall, it was announced the Superblock project was put on hold. The reason? Myrtle Beach residents had just elected a new mayor and three new council members who would need to be brought up to speed.

"I do believe that it's very important that we look at all of the different revenue streams and look at our budget very carefully and prioritize what needs to be done," Mayor Brenda Bethune said shortly before taking office on Jan. 9. "And I'm not saying that the library and the children's museum aren't a part of our future plans, but I do think that we need to really look into the viability of each of those and how are we going to fund it? Where is the funding going to come from? And we need to prioritize our projects."

Coltrane counts the new mayor as one of the children's museum's biggest supporters.

"I don't worry at all," she said. "I mean, we couldn't be more blessed because she's the right person for us, from our point of view, to find the right location."

Coltrane's vision is a museum that caters to children with special needs. She pointed to recent amenities added to the Myrtle Beach International Airport and the popular Savannah's Playground as evidence the community would welcome a children's museum that is truly for all kids.

"There's a lot happening in Myrtle Beach and we thought that's the perfect community to embrace a children's museum like this," Coltrane said.

A world-class children's museum can also benefit the area where it's located.

Coltrane points to Greenville, Columbia and her former home of Lynchburg, Virginia, as communities that saw substantial redevelopment after children's museums were introduced.

"You start bringing in, you know, 600 people a day - children and families - then restaurants want to be nearby and other services want to be nearby and that helps improve the area," she said.

The Superblock is a top priority for Bethune and she said meetings have already begun to discuss its future, whatever it may be.

"So I think what we will see is that people now are thinking outside of the box, that we will be looking at what other areas have done successfully as far as their downtown redevelopment, and the momentum is there," Bethune said.

Coltrane said EdVenture has been, and always will be, supportive of whatever decision the city makes about a new home for the children's museum.

"Well, I hope 2018 is going to be about finding the right location for us and about finding those initial lead donors that see the value of having this in the community and people who want to step up and start the process," she said. "That's what we are going to devote 2018 to."

Coltrane stressed that while EdVenture is an attraction, it also serves as an educational organization.

About half of their $4.5 million annual operating budget is spent on programming done outside of the museum. In Myrtle Beach, they would also like to partner with the school district to provide similar opportunities for kids.

As for the controversy surrounding the possibility of using eminent domain to gain control of those remaining Superblock properties, Pedersen said at a recent DRC meeting that it is still an option until the new council votes it down.

See below for a timeline of the history of the Superblock project. To view the timeline in full screen, click here.

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