MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Officials with Coastal Carolina University submitted a proposal to Myrtle Beach leaders to expand the university’s campus into the city’s downtown.
If approved, the Chapin Memorial Library would house CCU’s graduate education program. A K-8 charter school would replace the former First Presbyterian Church.
Graduate students would work in the charter school to gain hands-on learning, while Chapin Park would serve as a playground for students during the school day.
The plan would bring hundreds of students and staff to the downtown area. The Myrtle Beach City Council is set to discuss the proposal on Tuesday, but Mayor Brenda Bethune said she thinks it’s a great opportunity for both the city and the university.
“Anywhere you have a university or part of a university, you start to have little businesses spring up to support what’s going on around there so I think that’s a huge benefit and for the university as well to have the marketing ability to be able to play off of the 18 million-plus visitors we get here,” Bethune said.
Myrtle Beach has been researching other cities as it creates a plan to revitalize its downtown. Bethune said they found universities have a major role in those revitalization efforts.
“Anytime we can bring part of the university to the heart of downtown, it just creates that vibrancy and livelihood we want, especially with the investments we are making with the downtown,” she said.
The city points to Durham, Charlotte and Greenville as cities who added universities to their downtown in recent decades.
The Savannah College of Art and Design decreased crimes while increasing property value since its creation in 1979, according to a city presentation.
A study commissioned by the city estimates the Myrtle Beach and CCU partnership would create nearly 200 jobs and generate $2.6 million of total state and local tax revenue.
City manager John Pedersen said the impact will likely expand well beyond that.
“You’re going to have a need for student housing so we’re hoping that creates the need to redevelop some of the older mom-and-pop hotels; renovate those, create student housing there," Pedersen said. “It will create the need for convenience shopping, more restaurants, just more places to go and hang out.”
In the long run, the plan is estimated to have a $8 million annual economic impact. The study also found 39 other jobs could be created as nearby businesses open.
Research also pointed to benefits of supporting downtown businesses year-round, sparking innovation while increasing housing, construction and real estate jobs.
The overall project is estimated to cost around $9.3 million.
Pedersen said the city would be responsible for around $5 million, with half dedicated to Chapin Memorial Library renovations, which he said are needed even without CCU using the space.
Myrtle Beach hopes to use historic tax credits to pay for part of the project. Parking revenue that previously funded the Downtown Redevelopment Cooperation will also be used on the project.
“That was a source that we didn’t have available a year ago,” Pedersen said. “So that means it’s not going to impact anyone’s millage rate and it is not going to impact any of the downtown plans that we have talked about like the theater and the library.”
The city is already working on constructing a new library and Pedersen said this plan could expedite that process.
The plan would be the second partnership between the city and college. The pair is already working together to create a performing arts center in the Arts and Innovation District. Construction is expected to start next year.
Bethune said the city is talking with some university leaders about additional partnership opportunities but nothing has been decided. She added she would like to work with Horry-Georgetown Technical College.
The plan needs final approval from city council.
"I hope that it will be seen favorably because I really believe that this is a win-win for the university and for the city of Myrtle Beach, not just for our visitors but for our residents and for our businesses,” Bethune said.
A spokesperson for CCU did not have a comment to provide at this time.