Delays, disagreements marked air base redevelopment

Two decades after it closed, the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base has a completely new life. The base shut down twenty years ago this week.

What began as an Army Air Corps training field during World War II, closed for a while in the late 1940's and then re-emerged in the mid-50's as an Air Force Base.

It played key roles in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, among other conflicts.

After the Cold War ended, the base closed for good on March 31, 1993.

At the time, people around the Grand Strand worried about the impact.

"Taking a chunk of the economy out of a small city like us, that was a big blow," said Myrtle Beach planning director Jack Walker. "And so it meant that people might not look here for hotel investments or to retire."

Walker was involved in community meetings about how the former base should be redeveloped. Some people wanted homes, while others favored restaurants, shops or offices.

"All of a sudden when you hear all these things from the community, it clearly said a town," said Walker.

Or, an urban village, though Airbase Redevelopment Authority director Buddy Styers said at first nobody knew what that meant.

Styers gives the redevelopment board credit for sticking with that plan, when there were so many disagreements about what city and county officials wanted.

He says that was not unusual for military base closures.

"I found out in talking to other people, they went through the same thing and it was sincere. People just wanted different things and you have to work your way by it," Styers said.

It took a decade and some wrong turns, but Styers says the redevelopment authority found the right developer in Dan McCaffrey, who built The Market Common.

Today, Styers says the result worked out well for the community, beyond what was envisioned two decades ago.

"There are a lot of military installations that have been closed as long as we have that aren't anywhere close to where we've done."

Styers says he's proud of what the redevelopment authority has accomplished, especially since local taxpayers didn't have to foot the bill.