Bikefest budget higher after firm's '06 losses

January 7, 2007 

The nonprofit company that managed the Atlantic Beach Bikefest for the first time last spring lost nearly $89,000 on the event, interviews and documents show.

Even as it tries to pay off that debt, the company plans to increase its budget for the 2007 festival by nearly two-thirds and is asking local governments to contribute money.

Entertainment Consortium Inc., which runs the nonprofit, projects it will spend more than $398,000, about 60 percent more than the $246,000 it spent on the 2006 festival.

The town of Atlantic Beach, which traditionally ran the festival, handed over the reins to the company in the spring with the hope of making more money for the four-block town.

Entertainment Consortium was a new company created specifically to run Bikefest by several partners. Of those partners, the only remaining member is Joe Grant, a longtime lobbyist for the city of Columbia.

Grant blamed the last rally's problems on the fact that the company did not advertise changes far enough in advance.

The festival has attracted 200,000 to 400,000 people to the Grand Strand each year in the past several years after starting as a 100-person event in 1980.

For the first time, attendees had to pay $10 to get a wristband for access to the festival. The company's goal was to make $200,000 in ticket sales, but it pulled in less than $133,000.

Entertainment Consortium's goal was to make $100,000 for itself, and another $100,000 for Atlantic Beach.

The company still owes the town nearly $50,000 and it did not, nor does it plan to, pay itself any money, Grant said.

The documents also say the company expects to receive $50,000 from the state and $18,500 from sponsors. Grant said that figure includes $15,000 from Kool cigarettes and $3,500 from Anheuser-Busch.

Grant said he was optimistic the company would receive the money. State officials and company spokesmen said they did not intend to send any money.

Last spring, the company applied for a $100,000 state grant and received $25,000. Michael Sponhour, a spokesman for the state Budget and Control Board, said the company has reapplied for the grant for 2007, but the state has no plans to award more money for this year's rally.

The Sun News was not able to confirm any agreement with Anheuser-Busch. Grant said the Entertainment Consortium employee who set up the sponsorships is no longer with the company.

"I was left with the impression that we were just waiting on a check," he said.

Grant learned from a reporter that another sponsor - an event company working for Kool cigarettes - considered Bikefest in breach of contract, according to Craig Fishel, an R.J. Reynolds spokesman.

"Well, that's news to me," Grant said. "That is absolutely news to me. Hmm. Well, it sounds like we need to do some more follow-up, because I had not heard that before."

The company also owes $27,300 to local companies for services, such as trash removal, go-cart rental, Internet services, fence rental and printing, Grant said.

Atlantic Beach's council voted 3-2 in December to stick with Entertainment Consortium and raised the amount the company would be paid if all of last spring's debt is resolved.

Asking for help

Entertainment Consortium has approached Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Horry County to ask for a share of a tourism-generated tax.

The state collects the tax, called accommodations tax, from lodging facilities and redistributes the money with the condition that it must be spent to boost tourism.

At this point in the budget process, volunteer committees are meeting to review applications from tourism and cultural groups and make recommendations to their councils.

Grant said Bikefest is a tourism machine for the Grand Strand and most of the tourists spend their money outside Atlantic Beach.

Myrtle Beach's committee has recommended the city give $25,000 on a request for $79,000, and stipulated the company use the money for advertising only.

Horry County's accommodations tax committee recommended last month that the council give $5,000 of a $50,000 request.

North Myrtle Beach's committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday to review a $80,000 request.

Tom Leath, city manager of Myrtle Beach, said he did not think he would advise his council to give any money.

"The impact on the city financially is fairly stiff," he said in reference to the extra services the city must provide during Bikefest, such as overtime for police officers.

"I would say we need to keep our money and provide our own services for that event. I don't know that the return is there that would allow us to give money away to another city."

Marcia Conner, Atlantic Beach's town manager, said the town is trying to attract more bikers and fewer day-trippers who come in cars.

"We really do want the Bikefest to be what it was during its heyday," Conner said. "Black bikers actually did come to Atlantic Beach. This was the home, the hub."

The Dec. 19 vote to stick with Grant bitterly divided the Atlantic Beach council as it voted 3-2.

Councilwoman Sherry Suttles, who voted against the contract, ripped the way the company handled Bikefest.

"Last year's Bikefest was a disaster," Suttles said in a telephone interview.

"We took that chance with him, but now, baby, I'm a whole lot more cautious. ... I have no confidence in him or his so-called consortium."

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The company managing Bikefest is asking local governments for a share of accommodations tax money, which it considers vital to its financial survival.

An advisory committee for each body reviews the requests and makes recommendations, which councils can stick to or change. Here are the requests and recommendations so far:

Horry County

Requested | $50,000

Recommended | $5,000

Myrtle Beach

Requested | $79,000

Recommended | $25,000

North Myrtle Beach

Requested | $80,000

Recommended | The committee plans to meet this month

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