Business owners link arms to stand against City of Myrtle Beach eminent domain efforts

Myrtle Beach business owners and residents link arms and fight against the city's eminent domain efforts. (Image Source: News13's Taylor Herlong)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – A group of downtown business owners and Myrtle Beach residents formed a human chain around Jack Thompson’s Photography Studio & Gallery Wednesday afternoon to show support for the local business owner in his fight against the city’s eminent domain decision.

The City of Myrtle Beach announced Jan. 24 that the Superblock area of Myrtle Beach would essentially be torn down to make way for a rebuild of Chapin Memorial Library and The Children’s Museum of South Carolina. Since that time, at least two property owners are refusing to sell.

Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen told News13 in February the city has made offers on the two properties, but the price hadn’t been right. The day after that interview, city officials voted to give themselves the power to use  eminent domain if needed to take over those properties. 

Pedersen says they’re still working to try to reach voluntary sales agreements with the remaining business owners.

The Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation (MBDRC) held a meeting Wednesday afternoon. Many of the people who stood linked arm in arm around Thompson’s business were at that meeting, voicing their frustration with businesses potentially being forced from the Superblock.

“I’m just hurt by it. No one came to me telling me what’s going to happen,” says business owner Irene Kirszd. “How about me who invested my life, my money, and my attention. I don’t know nothing.”

John Pruett, a long time Myrtle Beach resident and friend of Jack Thompson, presented a petition to the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation that he and other current and former business owners started.

“We were told there was nothing we can do, that it’s a done deal and so it just didn’t sound really right,” explains Pruett. “This is America, you know, we can at least express our frustrations somehow.”

The petition, as stated on the document, is “to defend the right of property ownership against unfair use of eminent domain by the City of Myrtle Beach.” Before the list of signatures begins, a question on the document reads, “If these individuals can have their entire property, buildings and/or businesses taken from them today, what is to keep it from happening to you tomorrow?”

A summary listed on the petition explains how at the end of February the Myrtle Beach City Council voted 5-2 in favor of using eminent domain as a way to seize property and buildings owned by private individuals where “existing businesses are in operation and the owners of the businesses and buildings do not want to sell.”

“I don’t think of eminent domain as where you come along and the city has a better idea than entrepreneurs and says, ‘you know, we want your entire building, we want your entire property, we want your entire business that’s operating because we have a better idea than you have,’” expresses Pruett.

In Wednesday’s meeting at city hall, which was the first following the city’s decision to pursue eminent domain, the frustrated group of property and business owners received no answers from the MBDRC. Chairman Chuck Martino thanked the speakers for their input, did not directly address any of the comments or questions, and moved on with the meeting.

Following the meeting, News13’s Taylor Herlong asked Chairman Martino for his response to the concerns of those in attendance, and after a heated exchange, Martino said the MBDRC had no comment regarding the business owners nor could he comment on when construction would begin in the Superblock.

The group of roughly 20 business owners and residents formed a human chain around Thompson’s art gallery Wednesday around 3 p.m. shouting, “Don’t tear it down. Don’t tear it down.”

The city says it will move forward by any means necessary.

“This is a way to do it and this is traditionally the way that we’ve done it and traditionally a way that government helps to add value to an area that’s in distress,” said Pedersen when News13 spoke with him last month.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Pedersen said the city recognizes the historical importance of Jack Thompson’s collection and is in conversation with him to have his collection displayed in the new proposed library.

“That offer was made on the day of the press conference during which the project was announced, and was repeated again yesterday in a very productive meeting with Jack. We have a number of details to work out in a proposed agreement, but have already agreed that the rental of the space for this collection will be $1 per year. From our perspective, Jack’s collection is a priceless community treasure that needs to be preserved,” said Pedersen.

To date, the MBDRC has spent $2,069,505 on acquiring Superblock properties, according to Lauren Clever MBDRC assistant executive director.

Those interested in signing the petition is support of the business owners can learn more on the Facebook page, Freedom Defense Myrtle Beach.