As fall bike rally nears, officials contemplate losses from spring

bdickerson@thesunnews.comSeptember 29, 2012 

— It’s not just Horry County that’s losing money on the spring bike rallies. It’s everyone.

That’s Bill Barber’s take on the situation, following the recent announcement that the county found itself $183,000 in the hole when expenses for the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson rally and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest were compared to the revenue from vendor permits.

“The answer to that, on their permit thing, is to give us more permits,” said Barber, the general manager of popular biker hangout Suck Bank Blow.

Barber and others are gearing up for Monday’s official kickoff of the Harley-Davidson fall rally, with the permit period running through Oct. 7. Meanwhile, County Council is still expected to have a full discussion on how to prevent similar losses in the future, following Public Safety Director Paul Whitten’s after-action report on the spring rallies, presented at the Sept. 13 public safety committee meeting.

Public safety committee chairman and District 2 Councilman Brent Schulz called the figure “incredible” when Whitten presented it. He didn’t want to comment on the matter further.

“I think it’s a discussion that 12 people need to have,” Schulz previously said. That discussion is not on the agenda for Tuesday’s County Council meeting.

And while the county’s public safety committee wasn’t pleased with the figure, the report didn’t take into account other county revenue from May.

In Whitten’s after-action report, the direct and indirect expenses involved in policing both the Harley event and the Atlantic Beach festival totaled $257,450.

The only revenue documented in the report came from vendor and special event permit fees, which was $74,360 from both events. That wasn’t the only source of county revenue for the month, however.

The county’s 1 percent share of the hospitality tax generated approximately $517,418 in May from the unincorporated parts of the county, according to figures from Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.

Bourcier said the county doesn’t do a breakdown of how much hospitality revenue is generated by individual events like the bike rallies, but it is just a total of all taxes generated per month. This year’s numbers marked the highest amount of hospitality taxes collected in the county since May of fiscal year 2008.

Local accommodations tax revenue collected in unincorporated areas for May of this year totaled $73,916, which was again the highest amount since the same month in fiscal year 2008.

“I would venture to say that if you are weighing the expense to jurisdictions for managing the impact of the rallies against the income the rallies generate for the economy, the income they generate would far outweigh the expense,” said Pat Dowling, spokesman for the city of North Myrtle Beach, via email. “Ten years ago, the participants associated with these events may have had less of an impact on the economy because the participants were generally younger and had less to spend.

“However, we have definitely noticed a change in the age of participants and their buying power.”

Dowling added that accommodations tax collections in North Myrtle Beach for May increased 9.1 percent over the corresponding month in 2011, while hospitality fee collections were up 12.6 percent.

The spring rallies cost North Myrtle Beach about $100,000 for public safety, public works, parks and recreation and other city work.

“North Myrtle Beach is more directly impacted by the Atlantic Beach Bikefest than it is by the Harley event simply because Bikefest’s sponsor, the town of Atlantic Beach, does not have the lodging or restaurant facilities needed to accommodate the large number of Bikefest participants, nor does Atlantic Beach have the public safety officers needed to manage such a large event from a traffic control perspective,” Dowling said.

The county was more affected as well. Approximately $113,087 was spent on security for the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, while only $5,400 was generated from vendor permits.

Horry County Councilman Marion Foxworth previously said the county has lost money on the rallies for years, the result of both it and the city of Myrtle Beach taking a stance to try and dissuade them.

That included Myrtle Beach enacting a controversial 2008 helmet law that was ultimately struck down by the South Carolina Supreme Court in 2010.

Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said the city’s doing just fine without the large rallies that used to dominate the month of May.

Both of the last two summer tourist seasons – May through October 2011 and 2010 – set records for revenue. Last year, Myrtle Beach generated almost $8.6 million in revenue during those peak summer months, which beat the $8.0 million from the same time period in 2010.

Kruea noted that both 2010 and 2011’s numbers were greater than previous pre-recession peak of nearly $7.8 million in 2008.

Those figures don’t break down how much Myrtle Beach made off the spring bike rallies. Kruea, however, rebuts the argument that the local economy has gone down the drain because of the city’s stance against the rallies.

“We’re doing just fine,” he said.

While some businesses might have benefited from the larger rallies being the only game in town in May, Kruea said, a lot of other businesses do better without the bikers monopolizing the city for weeks.

“Our economy does much better when the visitorsship is diverse.”

Barber, though, thinks that efforts to diminish the rallies have hurt the local economy. He said another problem is the county limiting the amount of vendor permits a venue can have.

He remembered SBB Four Corners having 42 vendors from the late ’90s to the early 2000s. For this year’s May rally, there were eight.

“Everybody’s losing money,” Barber said. “It’s sad that the mentality of the local politicians is what it is.”

He said that mentality is stemmed by shows like “Sons of Anarchy,” which depicts the exploits of an outlaw motorcycle club. Barber pointed out the vast majority of biker enthusiasts are hard-working professionals who add to the community financially and intellectually.

“I don’t know anybody that matches the description of ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ ” Barber said.

His establishment has gotten a jump-start on the fall rally by beginning events on Wednesday.

“It’s a small crowd right now. We always get these early guys,” Barber said.

Bourcier said that, as of Friday, the county had issued 42 vendor permits and six special event permits.

Both SBB original and SBB Four Corners were given a special event permit.

Barber, for his part, is ready for a good fall rally.

“We’re ready to go. Our schedules are set and we’re ready to rock and roll,” he said.

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.

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