For over 100 years Burroughs & Chapin has driven growth and development in Myrtle Beach, from the fairground flavor of the former Pavilion to the modern retail and entertainment behemoth Broadway at the Beach. In comments to The Post and Courier in June, the developer was vague as it stuck its toes in Lowcountry waters.
“We’re looking to expand our real estate and development pursuits outside Myrtle Beach,” said Terry Horack, the company’s executive vice president. “And certainly Charleston is an attractive market to us.”
He didn’t mention particular projects in the article, but Horack told the paper that Charleston was appealing because of its affluence and proximity. However, gay activists and environmental watchdogs are raising concerns over Burroughs & Chapin’s alleged abuses of South Carolina’s wetlands and its record of social intolerance.
“I don’t see Charleston as the kind of place that would welcome this sort of company with a clear history of discrimination,” says Tony Snell, former president of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement.
Burrough & Chapin raided objections to the 1998 Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival planned in Myrtle Beach. The company refused to allow the Village People to play at its Broadway at the Beach development. It also tried to keep other venues like the All Star Café from hosting Pride events, Snell says.
“Burroughs & Chapin raised holy hell,” he says.
The company ran advertisements in Myrtle Beach’s Sun News to defend its decision: “Our company abides by the laws governing fair and equal treatment of all individuals. However, as a private company, we have not been, nor do we intend to be, forced or intimidated into supporting organized activities that we believe endanger the historic values of our nation and the cornerstone truths on which they are based.”
In the wake of this, the company also felt it appropriate to change its slogan, which had remained unchanged for over 100 years, from “Boldly Shaping the Future with Pride” to “Burroughs & Chapin — Family Values Since 1895.” The company’s former president and Chief Executive Officer Doug Wendel said in a 1998 Sun News article that the company needed a new slogan because “some people started using the word ‘pride’ a whole lot in our community.”
Burroughs & Chapin tried to argue that homosexuality conflicts with its family values stance. “The lifestyle they [homosexuals] choose is not in keeping with what Burroughs & Chapin stands for,” said company spokeswoman Nancy Reynolds in the same article.
Though many gays and lesbians were deeply offended, Snell saw it as a victory for the gay community because their event had forced the company to change their slogan.
“They have nothing to be proud about. It symbolized something so much more for our community,” says Snell, adding that the gay community was happy it no longer had to share the word with a “bigoted company.”
Expanding the Empire
Sparring with minorities isn’t the only issue in Burroughs & Chapin’s past that is riling local activists. In 1999, the company announced plans to create a 7,175 acre business park, the largest in South Carolina history. The greatest criticism of the park was where a portion of the funds would come from — the company allegedly took tax dollars from Horry County’s public school systems and channeled it to infrastructure related to the development.
In an ABC News report on the deterioration of America’s schools, reporter James Walker used Horry County’s school money shuffle as an example. “Doug Wendel [Burroughs & Chapin’s former CEO] is using the promise of jobs to get the state to help him build condominiums, golf courses, and shopping centers with money collected from property taxes,” Walker said.
Though many protests arose and activists groups formed, nothing could stop the park from being built. The local school board battled the company over the issue, even hiring its own team of economists. The school district estimated in 2000 that it would lose $65 million over 40 years due to the development deal. Despite all opposition, construction of the business park began later that year.
Will Moredock, a City Paper columnist and author of Banana Republic, a book about the corruption of Myrtle Beach, saw ditches and canals dug on the land before construction began on the Grandstrand Mall, a section of the business park. Companies have been known to skirt wetlands laws by digging ditches and canals to drain them, although Burroughs & Chapin has apparently not been found guilty of such actions. By drying the lands, a developer can avoid the costs of offsetting those lost wetlands.
“I saw and took pictures of these huge ditches cut through the land,” Moredock says. “When the time came around to get a permit to build the mall on the land, Burroughs & Chapin could probably say with a perfectly straight face that this is not a wetland.”
The environmental impact of drying wetlands can be devastating, says Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League, a regional environmental
“If you are artificially drying out a wetland, then you are destroying the wetland,” Cave says. “The environmental impact of that is significant not only to local species but to both flooding and stormwater pollution
Moredock’s claim was not a first for Burroughs & Chapin. In 1995 the OCRM sent the company a notice that it had violated state stormwater and sediment control laws. In 1997 the state’s Office of Coastal Resource Management planned to issue a $2,000 fine because of work at the US-17 bypass, but officials were uncomfortable seeking penalties against the company due to the state’s weak wetlands requirements.
“If you make alterations years before applying for water permits, then the OCRM doesn’t have a legal hook,” says Jimmy Chandler, the president and founder of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project. “So companies can get away with the alterations simply by waiting.”
In 2001, the company was investigated by the EPA regarding impacts to 90 acres of wetland, but was only asked to fill in half a dozen drainage ditches.
“Burroughs & Chapin is a privately held company, have always been very closed about their activities, and have had a great deal of autonomy in Horry Country,” says Cave. “I believe any area that they move into, both the county and the people need to be very
Burroughs & Chapin did not answer questions regarding these issues. “I have no responses for you at this time,” wrote spokeswoman Lei Gainer via
Differing priorities aside, gay and environmental activists know how to keep attention on Burroughs & Chapin’s past as the company looks to a potential future in Charleston.
“You’ve got to pound the pavement, and you’ve got to do it every day,” Snell says. “You have to bring out their past, and you can’t back down, no matter what they do.”