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Murrells Inlet: Headmaster will lead revitalization group

By Jason Lesley

Scott Gibson didn’t know where volunteering to write the strategic plan for Murrells Inlet 2020 would lead.

He offered his help when former executive director Renee Williamson was discussing the plan with his wife, Kathy. The women had been friends when they lived in Augusta, Ga. Gibson said he’d written several strategic plans and became a member of the community group’s advisory board to shepherd it along.

Now Gibson is the new chairman of the Murrells Inlet 2020 board of directors, replacing Whitney Hills when her term expired. He comes on the board with three others: Karen Attayek, owner of Karen’s Embroidery and Screen Printing; Bernadette Delgado, owner of the MISC-Everything Murrells Inlet retail store; and Meredith Millen, marketing and community coordinator with the United Way of Horry County.

“Whoever is running Murrells Inlet 2020 has to know the strategic plan,” said Gibson, headmaster at Lowcountry Prep School and a resident of Wachesaw Plantation. “I know where our road map is.”

Gibson said it’s important to show progress implementing a strategic plan, and Murrells Inlet 2020 has started work on two of the key elements that surfaced in a community survey. Safer crosswalks on Business 17 at the Marsh Walk restaurants have been funded by the Georgetown County Transportation Committee. Reflective paint on the road and signs warning drivers of pedestrians will be installed this spring. Owners of the restaurants are discussing better lighting at the crosswalks, too.

A second need identified in the survey is improving the inlet’s bike path. Georgetown County Council freed $216,000 in Sunday liquor sales permit receipts to begin building an “Inlet to Intracoastal” bike path that connects with the Bike the Neck path through the inlet.

Gibson said board member Jeff Ciuba has been “a dynamo” in making things happen. Gibson said he learned from his first career to publish an implementation plan along with a strategic plan. “Hey, every month you had better be doing something,” he said. “That’s what I brought to Murrells Inlet 2020, and it seems to be effective prodding us down the line.”

Gibson recognizes the balance that Murrells Inlet 2020 needs to strike between commercial and environmental concerns. “I do think you can do both,” he said. “What businessman wants to be known for saying, ‘Oh yeah, we pollute all the time.’ Those beautiful restaurants, would they be well served with trash floating by? There will always be tension. If we are smart about it, we’ll find out what we have in common rather than emphasizing what separates us.”

Growth is the biggest threat to the quality of life in the inlet. With most of the land between 17 Business and 17 Bypass built out, developers are turning their attention west of the bypass. Georgetown County Council approved second reading of a rezoning proposal to allow 53 houses on 15 acres on Wesley Road last week. That development is just down the road from a 250-unit apartment complex approved months ago.

“The sense I get from all parties,” Gibson said, “is we don’t want to ruin the charm of the place. Board members say it’s a charming fishing village, quaint and pleasant. Whether on the business side or the environmental side, I’ve yet to hear anyone say, ‘Let’s build high-rises.’ I think there’s room for responsible growth, and I think we can do a better job of convincing the environmentalists that business is not your enemy. We can all get along together.”

As an educator, Gibson likes the fact that Murrells Inlet 2020 has an educational component to its mission. The group is sponsoring a community meeting Jan. 26 at the Murrells Inlet Community Center on making the inlet a bird sanctuary. “There are different opinions,” Gibson said. “Let’s be honest about it and share our opinions. When you do that in a friendly environment, both sides get a better understanding of the other, and again, it’s part of the educational component.”

Another of Gibson’s big jobs as chairman will be to find a new executive director. “It’s not terrible that Renee moved on,” he said. “I don’t see it as a crisis. I see it as a great opportunity. It’s prudent to find a person whose skill set matches the strategic plan.” The position, he said, calls for marketing, public relations, accounting, grant writing and organizational skills — all for a modest salary.

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