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Grand Strand developer to open $3M interactive exhibit in center of tourist mecca
BY BRIAN HICKS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman once said that if the H.L. Hunley was going to make big money, it needed to go to Myrtle Beach.
Now, it virtually is.
On Wednesday, the Grand Strand development giant Burroughs and Chapin Co. announced plans to open the $3 million, 4,200-square-foot H.L. Hunley Experience as part of its Broadway at the Beach entertainment complex. The exhibit puts the Confederate sub front and center in the
heart of one of the country's biggest tourist meccas, telling its story to 11.5 million tourists each year.
"The Hunley is first and foremost a technological marvel, conceived of and built by Americans," said Egerton Burroughs, company chairman.
Officials with the Hunley project don't expect the new tourist
attraction to compete with the real Hunley's museum, set to open in North Charleston within the decade. In fact, they hope this attraction, which quite literally has the bow of a Hunley replica jutting prominently from the Grand Strand skyline of gold pyramids, giant crabs and oversized planets, will increase interest in the sub and draw Myrtle Beach visitors southward.
Sparking an interest in the history and science of the Hunley is the idea, Burroughs and Chapin officials said. They say the Hunley Experience -- the premiere attraction at the new Adventures in Science, History and Nature building -- will be an interactive and historically accurate depiction of the sub.
Visitors will be able to sit inside a mock-up of the Hunley's crew compartment and crank a propeller through water, look through a reproduction conning tower viewing port and get a feel for what it took to operate the world's first successful attack submarine.
In all, the Hunley Experience will tell the story of the sub, from the circumstances under which it was built through the science and technology of its recovery and excavation.
"We want to immerse people in this exhibit," said Pat McBride of Burroughs and Chapin. "We want to mix entertainment and education the way Ripley's (Aquarium) has done so well. We want to teach people about the technological achievements and times in which the Hunley was created."
This new tourist attraction, set to open July 7, could be a financial boon for the real Hunley's conservation. Under a licensing agreement, Burroughs and Chapin will pay Friends of the Hunley $54,000 a year plus 20 percent of gift shop proceeds. Warren Lasch, chairman of Friends of the Hunley, said he hopes the group will see around $250,000 annually as a result. The conservation of the sub costs more than $1 million a year.
Lasch said the money from this joint venture is not the only boost for the submarine. The exhibit will introduce new people to the Hunley and let them know its conservation is an ongoing project even though the sub's final crew was buried earlier this month.
"This will help us preserve the legacy and help us complete the mission of conserving the Hunley," Lasch said. "We are just getting started in this, but we think their attention to detail and vision are great."
Burroughs and Chapin officials estimate that 500,000 of Broadway at the Beach's 11.5 million annual visitors will go through the Hunley Experience. In other words, they aren't worried about the exhibit wastin' away next to Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett chain restaurant also opening in July.
Tom Jones, Burroughs and Chapin's chief officer for sports,
recreation and entertainment, said the company is interested in the Hunley because it is "a story worth telling.""It is of such importance to our American history that the National Park Service and the U.S. Naval Historical Center joined in its raising, citing the need for its historical and archaeological preservation," Jones said.
Some details of the Hunley Experience are still being worked out as Burroughs and Chapin rushes to open the exhibit by the height of tourist season. The $1.4 million building is under construction as the $1.6 million exhibit is being built offsite. Friends of the Hunley officials hope to reach an agreement to display some artifacts from the sub on a rotating basis, and they would like to offer a tour bus to bring visitors to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston to see the actual sub.
Those details are yet to be worked out. Even the admission price, which Jones said will be under $10, has not been set.
The Hunley Experience follows in the wake of a Titanic exhibition that recently opened at Ripley's Aquarium, within sight of where the Adventures in Science, History and Nature building is going up.
This project also firmly plants the story of the ill-fated privateer in modern pop culture. In artist renderings, the bow of the Hunley protrudes from the front of the building atop turbid seas. This signage sits at the east end of the Broadway at the Beach complex, across a man-made lake from Hard Rock Cafe and across the highway from the NASCAR Cafe.
It's right in the middle of a busy town's busiest epicenter.
Officials said Wednesday that the Hunley exhibit has an open-ended hold on the Adventures building but could some day be phased out if interest in the submarine wanes.
Burroughs and Chapin officials aren't expecting that to happen anytime soon.
Edited By TMSmalley on 1083337153
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