The barricades on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach are there to keep visitors and others safe by separating pedestrians and vehicles, city officials say.
But businesses that are hemmed in by the temporary metal barricades — which look like bike racks or parade barriers — say they have suffered financially as a result.
“I think the city was dragging their feet for a long time, and now they overreacted,” said hotel owner David C. Perkins.
The barricades were put in place after a June 18 shooting on Ocean Boulevard that sent six to the hospital. City Manager John Pedersen said they help public safety officials by making sure pedestrians don’t cross into the street or linger in the roadway where it’s not allowed.
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“Right now, if we were to assess it, I think we would say that the experiment has been successful,” Pedersen said of the barriers.
The city is even considering creating more permanent, aesthetically-pleasing barricades at a potential cost of $1.3 million.
Pedersen said that the city has had two main responses to recent violence — increased police presence in the boulevard area after a spate of shootings in April, and the barricades, along with more police, after several shootings around Father’s Day weekend in June.
There have been no high-profile incidents since then, Pedersen said.
“I am very, very reluctant … to find out how to dismantle the plan to the point where it no longer works,” he said.
But Perkins, who has owned the Gazebo Inn at 1607 S. Ocean Blvd. since 1972, said his business this year is down 25 percent, and that the 55-room hotel hasn’t been full since the Carolina Country Music Festival in June.
Perkins said guests who have visited year after year are commenting on the barricades, which he said serves as a visible reminder of the Father’s Day shooting.
“They see that and they want their money back at the front desk, and they tell their friend, who’s coming next week,” Perkins said of the disgruntled guests.
Michelle Kerscher of The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove said that the barricades, which are not directly in front of that store, have not significantly affected the shop. But Kerscher, who also is the treasurer for the Oceanfront Merchants Association, said several other shops have reported that their business is down.
“Our feeling is anything that hurts business in July and August is bad for the area, because that’s the time that you make the money that lets your business survive,” she said.
Pedersen said the city will use police feedback to decide if it will take the barricades down or expand how much of Ocean Boulevard is covered.
But a few members of city council have come out against the structures. Councilman Mike Lowder has said in two public meetings the barriers are unnecessary because of additional police in the area. Pedersen said as many as 70 officers, including those from outside agencies assisting the city, have been patrolling the central commercial district.
Councilman Randal Wallace also said that the crowd in the city changes after Independence Day, as younger tourists are replaced by families on summer vacation.
“You’re giving the appearance of a war zone down there,” Wallace said.
But so far, a majority of city council has not directed Pedersen to remove the structures.
City staff also is studying whether to install a more permanent barricade or railing that doesn’t look so out of place, Pedersen said.
The city is looking to models in other places, like Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which has less conspicuous railings along its streets.