Gov. Nikki Haley and Atlantic Beach officials remain at a standoff regarding the future of Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest after a meeting Tuesday morning.
Haley said she would like to see Atlantic Beach return to what it was in the 1940s when there were bustling businesses, hotels and attractions and is willing to help the transformation with state funding – if town officials end Bikefest.
“When I look at Atlantic Beach the feeling I have is pride,” Haley told town council members. “When I look at Atlantic Beach the feeling I have is history. … We need to find a way to make sure that this is a destination spot for all of the people from all over this country to [want to visit].”
But Atlantic Beach officials say that while they respect and appreciate the governor’s opinion, they still have no plans to end Bikefest.
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“There’s nothing on the table for us to get rid of Bikefest,” Mayor Jake Evans said. “She said she’s going to work with us to make sure this event is safer, and we are welcome to that. If she wants to help in any other kind of way, of course the citizens here in Atlantic Beach and me, as the mayor, and Town Council welcome that.”
The council did not allow comments from the public during the meeting.
This is the first meeting between Haley and Atlantic Beach officials since the governor called for an end to Bikefest about two months ago after a violent Memorial Day weekend in Myrtle Beach.
Haley said she wants Bikefest to end, but recognizes that ending the event won’t instantly end the violence and lawlessness that comes with it. She said the state will send more law enforcement next year, regardless of whether or not Bikefest ends.
Evans said the council would be open to transforming Atlantic Beach into a place that is a tourist location year-round, but would not end Bikefest to do so.
Haley said that there is no immediate fix to the crime and lawlessness that occurs on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend and nothing would stop people from coming to town even if Atlantic Beach ends Bikefest.
“[People] will come,” she said. “That's the thing, is they will continue to come. But what we've got to do is show them that this is not a place that they can be abusive to, this is not a place that they can do things to. This is a place that they have to respect.”
Haley said the state spent $1.3 million sending 273 officers to the Grand Strand for Memorial Day weekend.
“That’s what this is about,” she said. “Any other tourist destination on any other given weekend is not requiring that. Just the fact that it requires that means there’s a problem and it means that we’ve got to fix it.”
Haley said whether or not Atlantic Beach chooses to end the biker event, change won’t be seen immediately and pointed to similar events that drew violence such as Freaknik in Atlanta.
“It took a few years to finish but it starts with the leadership in Atlantic Beach saying no more,” she said. “That's the key is the leadership here has to say we deserve better. We want to do better. And I’m going to help them do it and I’ll stand right beside them and make sure this is what they want. But what we don’t want is the violence and all the crime that’s been associated.”
Haley said she doesn’t think Atlantic Beach can get the respect of tourists who visit during Memorial Day weekend – and spill onto the rest of the Grand Strand – if Bikefest continues.
“We can continue to put more and more and more law enforcement there, but it’s the culture of what this event has created that caused the problem,” she said. “So we can go and push this back as much as we need to. But again what is it doing? They’re not respecting what Atlantic Beach is, they’re coming to have a party. That’s not what I want this to be.”
The meeting comes two months after three people were killed and seven were injured in eight shootings along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend.
Since then, Haley and many residents have called for the event to end while other Grand Strand officials have begun to prepare for what is to come next year.
The shootings prompted the plan to form two task forces, plans to redirect accommodations tax funds from tourism promotion to beef up law enforcement and the creation of a law enforcement summit to discuss strategies for dealing with large special events.
Violet “Heels” Lucas, a motorcyclist who has been a member of various biker clubs along the Grand Strand, said Tuesday that she has offered to help to work collectively with officials to get the “onlookers” who cause trouble during Bikefest under control.
“I’ve been to several meetings and they all agree that they need to create a task force to look at things, but I haven’t heard from anyone,” she said. “No one’s communicated with the bikers, but everyone’s communicated about the bikers.”
Officials have said the issues are not caused by the motorcyclists that come to town during Bikefest.
“This is not about bikers,” Haley said. “This is about lawlessness. This is about the fact that we are having crime. That we're having arrests.”
Myrtle Beach resident Jean Hampton attended Tuesday’s meeting to share her support for ending Bikefest. She said she lives on the north end of Myrtle Beach about three blocks from Ocean Boulevard and sees motorcyclists zipping through the streets and disregarding traffic laws.
“I have friends that live all over the United States and I tell them to stay away when Bikefest is conducted,” she said.
Hampton said that though Evans said there are no plans to end Bikefest, she hopes he reconsiders.
“He needs to have an open mind about this,” she said.
Haley asked town officials to hold another meeting after Atlantic Beach officials have been able to consider her suggestions. Evans said he expects that meeting to occur within the next month.