Myrtle Beach plans to renovate Pelicans stadium instead of building new ballpark

MYRTLE BEACH — City officials plan to upgrade the Myrtle Beach Pelicans’ longtime stadium rather than build a new downtown home for the Grand Strand’s Minor League Baseball team.

Myrtle Beach City Council met behind closed doors for about an hour May 14 to discuss the future of the ballpark at the corner of 21st Avenue North and Robert M. Grissom Parkway. Afterwards, the council didn’t vote on any contracts, but Mayor Brenda Bethune confirmed the city intends to renovate the stadium rather than construct a new facility. 

“That is the plan,” she said.

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City officials have not said how much the upgrades would cost, but Horry County officials in 2022 said the projected price tag was nearly $60 million. Bethune said a final decision on the upgrades would need to happen quickly, with all plans in place ahead of the 2025 season.   

The council’s discussion comes about eight months after city leaders approved a one-year extension of a lease agreement with the Pelicans, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

City officials weighed whether to get out of the baseball business, upgrade the stadium or build a new ballpark, potentially in the downtown area.

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Since it opened in 1999, the stadium has been jointly owned by the city and the county. The city owns 70 percent of the facility and 30 percent belongs to the county. But county leaders have grown frustrated with the cost of maintaining the stadium. In 2022, some county officials objected to the then-$58.7 million price tag for ballpark improvements, which would have required $17.6 million from the county.

It’s unclear if the county will contribute to the upgrades.

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said county leaders haven’t discussed the topic much since they learned what the renovations could cost. They did approve the lease agreement last year, but they haven’t committed to anything beyond the one-year deal. 

“It was a high number,” Gardner said of the price for renovations. “If it was put to a vote today, I don’t know where we would be. I would be very cautious about the thing because we’re on the hook for 30 percent. And I know it’s a loss leader. I know it’s to help with the tourism that drives the economy and the locals that love to go. But I mean at some point in time you’ve got to say, ‘Is this worth it?’”

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The original stadium cost $12 million, with $10 million coming from the city and county while the team contributed $2 million. In the following decades, the team spent over $1 million on enhancements. The city, meanwhile, has forked out $1.2 million for renovations and repairs since 2017, and the most expensive project was replacing the field.

But in 2021, the ballpark ran into problems with new Minor League Baseball regulations. Pelicans officials said the stadium had 210 deficiencies and the team had until 2023 to correct them or have a plan in place to reduce that number to 10 by 2025.

The issues included home and visitors’ clubhouses that are too small, a lack of on-site weight and training rooms, and inadequate field lighting and fencing along the outfield walls and bullpens.

When the initial stadium lease expired after the 2018 season, the city and the team agreed to a three-year extension, then a two-year deal. The latest lease expires 30 days after the Pelicans’ 2024 season ends.

The Pelicans got their start in Myrtle Beach when the Atlanta Braves brought in a Class A-Advanced club from Durham, N.C., the Durham Bulls made famous by the 1988 movie “Bull Durham.”

The team was affiliated with the Texas Rangers from 2011-2014. They have been with the Chicago Cubs since the 2015 season.

A representative for the Pelicans could not be reached for comment.

Nicole Ziege contributed to this report.