Originally created 02/22/99

Plans remain on hold for shut air force base



MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- It is remembered by some as a model community with talent, pride and top-notch facilities.

But in the nearly six years since Myrtle Beach Air Force Base closed, it has been relatively still.

"It saddens me when I see grass growing in the concrete and the paint fading and deteriorating on the buildings," said retired Col. Edsel "Coupe" DeVille, a former base commander.

But the pace of base redevelopment could change if governments can agree on the base's future and how to pay for it.

Already, the base is the site of weekend soccer matches and recreation activity. Empty buildings have been filled by Horry-Georgetown Technical College students and faculty.

Redevelopment Authority officials envision a 162-acre development with tree-lined parkways, bike paths, a large lake and park, shops and apartments.

Some buildings that have sat empty since the 1993 closing could be torn down as early as summer to begin the $84 million South Park Urban Village project. The authority purchased 425 acres from the Air Force for $8.5 million.

But the authority's plans can't be realized without money, said Executive Director Buddy Styers.

Revenue sources include beer and wine permits from Sunday sales in Horry County. An establishment that sells alcohol on Sundays must buy a permit that costs $150 per Sunday or $7,800 a year.

Tax increment financing, or TIF, also is being considered. A TIF lets a government borrow money, usually by selling bonds, to pay for infrastructure for undeveloped land. Property taxes in the district are deferred to pay back the loans.

A proposal will be presented to the Myrtle Beach City Council in June. The project needs at least $23 million, Mr. Styers said.

Road construction could begin in South Park Village within a year, he said. But that has been said before.

"We are not, contrary to what people believe, dragging this out and making these decisions so we can keep our jobs," Mr. Styers said. "We're trying to get it done, and this kind of stuff takes time."

Some also question the authority's plans.

"I would've liked to have seen much more intense efforts to reuse the base for industry rather than for South Park," said Pete Winters, a retired brigadier general and former county airports director.

Talk of airport expansion has been put on hold. In 1993, the airport was given part of the base for expansion and economic development, and it bought 178 acres more in 1996. The county also has asked for 63 acres more for the project.

But the Redevelopment Authority has tabled the county's request while it considers another deal that would bring 150 new jobs to the area. The land is part of what the county had requested.