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Myrtle Beach City Council Debate Options for the City Financed 402-room Sheraton;
Next Three Years Could Require $5 million from the City
By Emma Ritch, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Feb. 1, 2006 - PINOPOLIS -- Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday debated whether to stick with the current operator of the city-financed convention center hotel or to explore options that could turn the hotel into condominiums.

Council members decided in the last hours of its three-day budget retreat to closely watch the progress of hotel.

The hotel struggled financially for three years until it agreed to part ways with Radisson in March. Interstate Hotels & Resorts, an independent operator, took over operations of the 402-room hotel as a Sheraton in September.

The next three years could require $5 million in aid from the city's hospitality fund, Budget Director Mike Shelton said. The hotel should be profitable by 2009, he said.

The city contributed no money prior to this fiscal year, he said. The contribution for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is still undetermined.

Sheraton has improved room sales and reduced expenses, city officials said at the retreat.

"Sheraton's made good progress already, and we've seen good results," city spokesman Mark Kruea said. "The council's looking for a rapid turnaround, and realistically it's going to take two or three years for that to happen."

The council ultimately agreed to watch Sheraton's progress but to continue examining other options. The council asked for regular updates from the Hotel Board Corp.

"The council needs better reporting of the hotel so we can plan for the future," Mayor John Rhodes said.

In other business, the council discussed:

Procedural changes. The council discussed having fewer meetings to improve efficiency but reached no consensus. Members agreed to reduce the staff's workload in transcribing minutes of meetings. Instead of recording all debate, the minutes now will reflect only action taken.

Criteria for awarding keys to the city. City staff will keep a record of keys received, and the council agreed to let each member award keys based on a "lifetime of achievement."

Volunteer boards. The council agreed to Rhodes' request to interview candidates for city committees instead of appointing based on resumes.

Recreation fields. Assistant City Manager John Pedersen presented a plan that would create six artificial-turf fields for $6 million on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Tournaments could use the new fields, freeing existing fields for local teams' use.

Golf course. Council members discussed whether residents would benefit from using the city's golf course for other recreation purposes, such as a park. Whispering Pines, a 225-acre course, is breaking even on its expenses.

Councilman Wayne Gray suggested the council consider the option, and Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said it could be used to create the Grand Park project. Councilman Phil Render said he supported keeping the course.

Tax reduction. Render said a mill reduction could send the message to constituents and state government that the city is responsible with money. Render frequently criticizes state officials for limiting spending and taxing mechanisms of local governments and for the proposed elimination of property taxes in favor of an increased sales tax.

"We don't need the long arm of Columbia to tell us how to spend the money that's generated in the city of Myrtle Beach," he said.

City Manager Tom Leath suggested that the city look to diversify revenue sources so the city is not dependent on property taxes.

Tax vouchers. Finance Director Maria Baisden told the council that the city has issued $17,750.92 for the settlement of the lawsuit brought by former Horry County Administrator Linda Angus, which challenged the way the city calculates taxes. About $70,000 is still outstanding, she said.

Contact EMMA RITCH at 444-1722 or eritch@thesunnews.com [mailto:eritch@thesunnews.com].

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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