Country music fans from near and far are preparing to flood Myrtle Beach this weekend for the Carolina Country Music Fest, a four-day concert series a block from the ocean in its third year.
But the event, which is underwritten by thousands of dollars of free city services and accommodations tax funds, is earning extra attention as officials try to figure out how to best pay for public services. Last month, city council gave initial approval to a budget that partially relies on a $5 per ticket charge to help pay for the city’s policing costs.
“We’ve got to find a way to offset some of the expenses of these major events,” Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said.
Jeffcoat unsuccessfully argued for reducing the festival’s A-Tax funding in March at the city’s budget retreat, and maintains that an event run by a for-profit group — Charlotte-based Full House Productions — doesn’t need so much public support. It was ultimately awarded $75,000 in A-Tax funding, in addition to more than $75,000 in uncharged city services.
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The festival, which has drawn upward of 20,000 attendees, requires police presence, emergency medical services and road closures: on Ocean Boulevard from 8th Avenue North to 9th Avenue North; and on 8th Avenue North from Ocean Boulevard to Kings Highway.
Bob Durkin, an organizer for the festival, could not be reached after several attempts to contact him through Palmetto Event Productions, a local events group that has handled many of the on-the-ground details for the festival this year.
Myrtle Beach has long been a city welcoming to large events, with officials willing to offer police, public spaces and other services for free — all in the name of attracting more visitors to goose the tourism-dependent local economy.
“[CCMF has] a tremendous, tremendous impact to our community. And it comes at a great time,” Mayor John Rhodes said. “[I]t really kicks off the summer. So we understand the value of this event.”
Jeffcoat also said the festival is important because it is scheduled for early June, a time when varying school calendars mean many families may not be ready to take a beach vacation.
Officials also balance the economic impact of an event—how much visitor spending and tax revenue it could bring—when deciding whether to grant public funds, Councilman Wayne Gray said.
But, he added, “There maybe needs to be more of a defined formula.”
City Manager John Pedersen included the $5-per-ticket charge when he proposed a roughly $1 million public safety package in the wake of a string of shootings in April. City staff project that the add-on, which would have to be approved in a special events permit for next year’s festival, would generate at least $100,000.
Pedersen said that the city set out a goal two years ago to start charging $5 per participant to large sporting events like the annual Myrtle Beach Marathon. Though the idea is mostly applied to sports tourism, it’s also appropriate for CCMF, Pedersen said.
“Basically we’re accepting that the promoter would pass that [cost] along,” Pedersen said.
The policy begs the question as to whether other growing events could be affected, like the Myrtle Beach Highland Games. The Celtic-themed festival of music and sports had its second straight showing in Grand Park near The Market Common this year.
The event drew 6,800 people on March 25, the only day it had a ticketed entrance. Organizers requested $7,253 in services like police and waived park fees; city council only granted free use of soccer fields and a shelter.
Together, the park space and shelter use was valued by city staff at $2,815, including a deposit. Organizer Todd Cartner said the games never used the shelter.
Pedersen said the changing policy wouldn’t affect the Highland Games, however, which he said are expected to move out of the city limits next year.
Cartner declined to discuss details of the event’s location for 2018.
City council still has to give a final approval to the budget that counts on funding from adding a charge to CCMF tickets next year.
And as Gray mentioned in a meeting in May, city government may include different members by the time CCMF organizers ask for another special event permit next year. Gray, as well as Rhodes and Councilmen Randal Wallace and Mike Lowder, faces a november election.
But, Gray said, Myrtle Beach might be able to easily recoup the $100,000 with other revenue if a future council declined to charge CCMF.
“$100,000 on an $80 million budget is very manageable,” he said.