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Two plans for the port: Tourism and cargo

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Redevelopment of the steel mill and a portion of the state port terminal in Georgetown is one of two flagship projects proposed in a new report on ways to increase tourism along the state’s northern coast.

The study is one of eight commissioned around the state by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Consultants from Tourism Development International were in the area last fall meeting with government and business leaders. The final report will be presented this spring.

A draft of the proposal lists the redevelopment of downtown Myrtle Beach and the industrial area along the Georgetown waterfront as its two major projects. It also calls for the creation of a Waccamaw Tourism Trail between Georgetown and Horry counties along with improvements to Conway and on the access routes to the region.

The goal of the proposal is to widen the appeal of tourism in the region to new markets in order to increase tourism spending. It emphasizes the need for communities within what it calls the Waccamaw Grand Strand region to work together, while maintaining their separate identities.

Myrtle Beach needs to improve its style and appearance to appeal to a changing vacation market, the study says. Attractions around the area need to be developed to broaden the appeal of Myrtle Beach and encourage visitors to stay longer.

Development in Georgetown is designed to create a destination for tourists already in the region and extend the city’s reach by building hotels, a terminal for small cruise ships and a marina complex, according to the report.

“The reality for the city of Georgetown is that it isn’t a destination now,” said Annette Fisher, president of the Chamber of Commerce who co-chairs the tourism study’s coordinating committee. “It never will be unless there is something like that where people can stay.”

The steel mill owned by Mittal Arcelor has been idle since July. There needs to be a plan for the site in case the mill closes permanently, the report says.

“The development of tourism and tourism-related uses on this 43-acre site is perhaps one of the few short term actions that could be initiated to create new employment opportunities,” according to the report.

An independent study by Clemson University reached the same conclusion, Fisher said.

“Would a tourism destination replace the quality of lost jobs? Ultimately, the project could be more sustainable,” she said.

Among the suggestions for the mill and adjacent property currently owned by the State Ports Authority are:

  •  a “town square” at Highway 17 and Front Street that creates a new entrance to the historic district;
  •  art studios;
  •  two hotels;
  •  a terminal for small and medium-sized cruise ships;
  •  a marina with residential development;
  •  a waterfront park;
  •  an industrial park for firms that cater to recreational products, such as boat building and fishing supplies.
Georgetown would be one end of the Waccamaw Tourism Trail, which could be traveled by car or by boat. But before that can happen, there needs to be more for tourists to do along the way.

“Not only is there the need to develop more product offerings to appeal to the ‘beach plus’ visitor and those with strong interest in natural and cultural heritage. There is also the opportunity to do so adopting and applying sustainable tourism development principles,” the report says.

The tourism trail is one recommendation that can be adopted soon, Fisher said.

Once the report is complete, subcommittees will be created to follow up on its recommendations, she said.

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