Mayor’s proposal to close Ocean Boulevard to vehicles not popular with Myrtle Beach City Council, business owners

mprabhu@thesunnews.comFebruary 2, 2014 

Those who were hoping to see a Bourbon Street type of pedestrian area on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach might not get their wish.

Mayor John Rhodes asked members of the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. last month to consider closing Ocean Boulevard to vehicles from Seventh Avenue North to Mr. Joe White Avenue from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. between Easter and Labor Day.

Rhodes said the move would increase pedestrian traffic and get those who were walking to spend money in stores along that stretch of the Boulevard.

But all City Council members contacted by The Sun News said they did not think it was a good idea. The Sun News was not able to contact Councilman Mike Lowder.

“I’m not sure that something like that is not going to do more harm than good,” said Councilman Michael Chestnut. “I’m not even sure it would help the businesses. I think that when people come to Myrtle Beach they come to Myrtle Beach to cruise. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to take that away.”

Rhodes said during the DRC meeting that he thought the emphasis on cruising the boulevard was hurting businesses.

“If you’re in your car and riding, you’re not spending,” he said last month. “Think about Broadway at the Beach. They park there and walk. They park there and spend money. So why would they not spend money on the Boulevard?”

Most council members said they appreciated the mayor for “thinking outside of the box” to come up with ways to continue to revitalize the downtown area, though they didn’t think closing the boulevard was the right answer.

Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said she thinks the proposal would hurt merchants.

“I don’t think many people will stop, find a place to park and walk around,” she said. “I think they’ll just say, ‘The heck with it, I’ll just go to Broadway at the Beach.’ ”

Victor Shamah, owner of The Bowery at Ocean Boulevard and Ninth Avenue North, said he’s afraid closing that portion of the Boulevard would cause horrible traffic on Kings Highway.

“I’m not for it,” he said. “And I know my neighbors are not for it.”

Shamah also stressed the importance of cruising to Myrtle Beach’s history.

“The Boulevard is for cruising,” he said, “We all cruised. From the granddaddies to the newly married couple. That’s the enjoyment of coming to the beach. Besides the beach, the fun and the sun, it’s the cruising.”

Rhodes said he heard some business owners oppose his idea, but said he hoped they’d be willing to at least give it a try for a weekend or two.

“If you’re afraid that that change would be bad for your business, try it out and see for one weekend,” he said of businesses on the Boulevard. “Let’s try it for a weekend here and there and see how it works. It’s our duty to look at things that we can change and help.”

City manager Tom Leath said if the city decides to pursue the idea, the Myrtle Beach Planning Commission and then the City Council would have to approve it.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.

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