Sun Fun Festival in Myrtle Beach area not on track for return in 2013

dbryant@thesunnews.comDecember 28, 2012 

— The sun might have set for good on the Grand Strand’s Sun Fun Festival.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which canceled the 60-year-old festival in 2012, will decide early next year whether the summer kickoff festival will return in 2013. Chamber officials have said they wanted area businesses or sponsors to step up to help put on the festival, and none have come forward yet – about six months before the festival traditionally is held.

This year, the chamber canceled the festival – known for its concerts, quirky games, beauty pageants and food – because it doesn’t bring visitors to the beach as it did in its early years and doesn’t pay for itself, officials said. The chamber, the area’s main tourism promoter, said it wanted to focus on luring tourists to the beach, and the Sun Fun Festival didn’t do that anymore.

“Though we have yet to receive a suitable proposal that would make the Sun Fun Festival a self-sustaining event, we certainly remain open to new ideas,” chamber president Brad Dean said in an email. “Our primary focus for the coming year, however, is to build upon our current successes in advertising and publicity, with or without a new festival.”

The chamber’s board of directors will have the final say whether Sun Fun returns. The board likely will take up the issue in January or February, said Tommy Bouchette, who takes over as board chairman in 2013.

“We are evaluating that,” Bouchette said. “We haven’t made that decision yet.”

The Sun Fun Festival was created by the chamber and other local business owners 60 years ago to get media coverage with games such as bubble-gum blowing contests and human checkers, and to help kick off the summer tourism season by giving visitors a reason to come to the beach during the first week of June.

But now visitors have other reasons to come to the beach – including attractions that weren’t even thought of when Sun Fun was born – and tourists start trickling in earlier in the year, meaning there’s less need for a Sun Fun Festival, officials said.

“The economic reasons for having it 30 years ago are not the same,” Bouchette said. “We are in a different market.”

The chamber spent $133,950 on the Sun Fun Festival in 2011, and about 11,500 people attended festival events over two days, chamber spokeswoman Nora Battle said in April after the chamber announced that Sun Fun wouldn’t happen in 2012. Chamber leaders said in April that they wanted to revamp the festival and bring it back in 2013, but wanted it to pay for itself and reached out for potential partners, but haven’t gotten any response.

Sun Fun had evolved from its original home along Myrtle Beach’s oceanfront and in recent years was held in Grand Park near The Market Common. Through the years, the festival has had parades down Ocean Boulevard, air shows, beach volleyball tournaments, meet-and-greets with Disney and Nickelodeon teen stars, and concerts. Longtime locals have just as many memories of Sun Fun as some visitors, but officials say nostalgia isn’t a reason to hang on.

“I have fond memories of it but it needs to be an economic decision,” Bouchette said. “We can’t always live off what we did in the past.”

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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