News13 Special Report: Multi-million Chinese investment in Myrtle Beach at a standstill

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – A $100 million Chinese theme park was supposed to come to Myrtle Beach this year. Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus made that announcement last year, claiming it would be similar to Epcot.

We followed this in March when they first made the announcement and again in August when Rhodes promised investors were coming to pick out the property.

The theme park was supposed to open this fall, but now city and county leaders say the deal has “gone quiet”.

“It’d been nice to have it late fall, early spring, but obviously it’s not going to happen. I’m waiting for them to come back, and they’re supposed to be back in February to say yes they’re going to do something or no they’re not,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes says Chinese investors were looking to buy the land where the former Hard Rock Theme Park and later Free Style Music Park stood, but now they don’t know if investors have the money.

“I know that they had one investor that was committed to 25 million and they were looking at other investors to take care of the balance between the 25 million and up to 80-100 million. Whether they’re going to be able to get those people involved or not, I don’t know,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes and Lazarus announced Chinese investors committed to the investment last year after a 16 day trip to China.

Lazarus says during that trip, they talked about the investment, but now the deal is no further along than it was a year ago.

“These are private investors the ones that the mayor and I had talked to, and they’re still working through those investors and still putting it together, but it just hasn’t come to fruition yet,” said Lazarus.

This isn’t the first time the city has worked with China.

Other Chinese investors have spent at least $50 million to purchase Grand Strand golf courses, and we found out that Rhodes has made 9 trips from Myrtle Beach to China to make those different investments happen.

“If you don’t go an listen to people, if you don’t go and try to encourage people to come to our community and develop from other nations, not just in the United States, but from other nations, then sometimes, you’re not going to get a piece of property like that  that developed by people in this country. I mean, what we were trying to do is enhance this area,” said Rhodes.

News13 requested the expense reports from the city for those different trips, and we’re still waiting for the report from Rhodes’ most recent trip, but the others add up to be a little more than $5,000.

“All these trips I took to negotiate with them, they paid for me coming over there, they paid my way to come over and took care of all expenses so it wasn’t a real expense to the City of Myrtle Beach,” said Rhodes.

The city has invested tens of thousands of dollars into the Chinese market through advertisements, and Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean says that’s because we need the Chinese to come here.

“China is the fastest growing source of inbound travel from outside of North America. More Chinese travelers are coming than ever before and not only are more coming, they spend more money. In fact, the average Chinese visitor spends almost six times what the domestic visitor spends,” said Dean.

Despite the numerous trips and investments from the city, Rhodes says all they can do now is wait to see if the Chinese will follow through with their promised investment.

“Right now, I can’t give you an answer because we don’t know. I don’t know, Chairman Lazarus doesn’t know, we’re waiting on their return to say yes we’re going to do it and bring money. I’ve told them don’t come back and tell me you’re going to do something unless you bring money to put in the bank to buy the property,” said Rhodes.

We asked Rhodes and Lazarus if they could help us get in contact with the investors, and both said no.

Rhodes says the investors will be back in Myrtle Beach in February and expects them to decide then whether or not they will buy the property.

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