CHARLESTON — South Carolina’s tourism chief said Monday that Atlantic Beach would be eligible for both state advertising and some building money for an event to replace the town’s annual biker festival which Gov. Nikki Haley wants shut down.
Duane Parrish also told The Associated Press that publicity about violence in the Myrtle Beach area during this year’s Memorial Day weekend event likely hurt tourism.
Bikefest attracts tens of thousands of bikers to the small, predominantly black seaside community of about 350 year-round residents. This year, while there was no trouble in Atlantic Beach, there were eight shootings, with three deaths, in nearby communities along the 60 miles of beaches on the state’s north coast known as the Grand Strand.
Haley attended a town council meeting last week urging members to end the festival and promised the state would help transform the town into a place people from across the nation will want to visit.
Parrish, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said help from his department could take the form of advertising grants to promote an event replacing Bikefest.
He added there is also a half-million dollars in building grants available under the Undiscovered South Carolina program, an effort to bring tourists to less-visited places in a state where tourism is an $18 billion industry.
“Those are brick and mortar grants and there may be an opportunity there to do something special down on those blocks by the beach,” he said. “But the impetus for what is done on the beach and what that event is has to come from Atlantic beach, not from the state.”
The summer tourism season got off to a slow start in the area and tourism officials said June snow makeup days in the North and Midwest were to blame. Parris said bad publicity also played a part.
“It certainly made some people stop and think should they go to the Grand Strand area,” he said. “It’s a combination of factors. The school makeup days being one and I think the publicity surrounding Atlantic Beach is a factor, too.”
Mayor Jake Evans said following Haley’s visit the town welcomes any help from the state but has no plans to end Bikefest, which generates fees of $60,000 for the town’s annual $500,000 budget.
But Parrish said now is the time to make a change.
“Atlantic Beach is in the spotlight right now and, albeit bad, it’s an opportunity to seize the moment and really make lemonade out of lemons. The governor has extended an olive branch from the state’s perspective, and my suspicion is there may be other government entities willing to help,” he said. “I think there’s a chance for Atlantic Beach to so something special and something they can be proud of 52 weeks of the year.”