Season of Change

Myrtle Beach area attractions, hotels adding new offerings for season

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – (March 4, 2012)
The Sun News by Dawn Bryant

Some tourism businesses that are starting to open for the season are showing off more than just a fresh coat of paint this year.

Several hotels, restaurants and attractions have invested big bucks to not only spruce up, but overhaul their properties to modernize, be poised for a hoped-for rebound in the economy or to be ready for a resurgence in their area of the Grand Strand, most notably downtown Myrtle Beach. Businesses typically do construction work during the quieter winter months, with most of them wrapping up this month as the first round of spring tourists trickle in. Some pulled out more than the usual paint brushes this year.

“It does seem that a lot of the sprucing up is more than just sprucing up,” said Dave Sebok, executive director of Myrtle Beach’s Downtown Redevelopment Corp. “There’s new tenants, major renovations inside and outside and new projects in the works. There’s a significant uptick in the reinvestment in downtown.”

Ripley’s has spent about $500,000 upgrading its attractions along Ocean Boulevard, with about half of that money going into the Moving Theater, which takes customers on a virtual ride in a seat that moves timed with the images on a massive screen. The attraction went digital, added surround sound, installed a new screen that is 16 feet tall and 35 feet wide and added more special effects, including falling snow and smells of burnt tires and pine trees. The theater re-opened Friday, and changes to the outside of the building – say goodbye to the T-Rex and hello to an animated dragon – should be ready in the next month, after the city signs off on it.

“You always have to continue to reinvest in your property,” said Chad Netherland, general manager of Ripley’s attractions along Ocean Boulevard.

Ripley’s also will add components to its other Boulevard properties as the season approaches, including lasers in the Mirror Maze, a new character at the Haunted Adventure and will have carnival-like shows outside the Believe It or Not! Museum this summer.

The upgrades come as some say downtown Myrtle Beach is poised for a comeback. The boardwalk and SkyWheel, which have opened during the past two years, have sparked more interest in the area, with tourists returning and locals venturing into the heart of the tourist district for the first time in years, officials and business owners have said.

“We really believe the downtown area is coming back,” Netherland said. “We want to do our part.”

Peaches Corner, a Myrtle Beach staple along Ocean Boulevard since the 1930s, also took advantage of the down winter time to overhaul its property, replacing the roof, upgrading the façade and installing new signs and a 4-foot by 4-foot peach that spins. There’s also a new zipline being built on the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park property aiming to open in early April and an oceanfront Mexican restaurant dubbed Banditos under construction near 15th Avenue North aiming to open in May.

But the upgrades aren’t limited to downtown Myrtle Beach.

At Broadway at the Beach, Blarney Stones in Celebrity Square re-opened Friday after a renovation and rebranding into Rodeo Bar and Grill, which will have a country vibe new to that spot.

At Kingston Plantation in between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, crews will put the finishing touches by the end of this month on a massive, $5 million overhaul to the Embassy Suites’ lobby area and restaurants. Gone will be the dated ‘80s vibe in the lobby, and guests will have more dining options, including a new 44-seat upscale restaurant called Vintage Twelve, a Coastal Grill family dining eatery, a new lobby bar and an expanded coffee bar with more seats and an extended menu of sandwiches, shakes and salads in addition to Starbucks products. The new common areas come a year after the hotel upgraded its 255 guest rooms.

“Hotels, like everything else, have to be modernized,” said Bob Barenberg, managing director of Embassy Suites Myrtle Beach. “[The lobby] goes from being kind of a compartmentalized, dated look to wide open, modernized look. It’s a much more welcoming experience.”

Competition and the economy also might be playing into some property owners’ decision to spruce up now, officials said. There are signs that the down economy that has lingered for the past few years might be coming back – consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in a year, the Dow Jones industrial average broke 13,000 last week for the first time since May 2008 and stubbornly high jobless rates are dropping, albeit slowly. Businesses want to be poised for when the good times return and not scrambling to get ready once customers are at the door, Barenberg said.

“You want to be ready to take advantage of business,” he said. “What you really don’t want to be doing is closing when things are great.”

For attractions, staying fresh is even more important as Myrtle Beach tourists have a growing number of entertainment options to choose from but might have a shrinking budget to spend on them because of rising gas prices. Last year, several new attractions debuted in Myrtle Beach, including the SkyWheel on the oceanfront in Myrtle Beach, WonderWorks at Broadway at the Beach and Pirates Voyage, the former Dixie Stampede live theater show.

“Obviously when there’s an increase of new attractions, everybody is competing for that small disposable dollar,” Netherland said.

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