Spring event could serve as test for closing Ocean Boulevard to traffic

03/12/2014 10:35 PM

03/13/2014 5:39 AM

A portion of Ocean Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach could be closed to traffic one day in May, which some officials say could test whether closing the road will increase pedestrian traffic and get more people into businesses.

The Oceanfront Merchants Association is considering closing one or two blocks of the Boulevard on May 10 for a special event, which is Mother’s Day weekend.

In January, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes asked members of the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. 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.

Some Ocean Boulevard businesses and City Council expressed some concern with closing the Boulevard to traffic and the mayor urged them to at least try it for one weekend.

OMA President Chris Walker said he doesn’t look at the one-day event as a test for closing the Boulevard, but as an opportunity to capitalize on a good weekend for tourists. Walker said most OMA members are against closing the Boulevard at all during the summer season.

“Really, this isn’t a test thing,” he said. “This is about doing something for Mother’s Day. … I don’t think a Saturday in May is going to compare to anything that could happen on any one day in June, July or August.”

Walker said he’s not sure what the “street party” would consist of and that OMA would turn its focus to the May event after its St. Patrick’s Day Festival, being held Saturday.

DRC members also are brainstorming “cost effective, but fun” ideas for a spring special event to suggest OMA hold that day, Executive Director David Sebok said.

“Keep it simple,” Sebok said during a DRC Board of Directors strategic planning retreat. “OMA would likely ask City Council to allow sidewalk sales. There could be street performers.”

Sebok said the Boulevard could be closed from Mr. Joe White to either Eighth or Ninth Avenue North, so that traffic could be easily directed to Kings Highway.

City manager Tom Leath said the event would be no different than OMA’s annual Oktoberfest. Leath also serves as DRC treasurer.

Karon Mitchell, who owns Shark Attack Adventure Golfon Ocean Boulevard at Seventh Avenue North and is a former DRC member, said while she initially bristled at the idea of closing the road, she welcomes the idea.

“We need some reinventing,” she said. “As my dad usually says, 10,000 of the miles on my car was put on the Boulevard and the other two [thousand] was going back and forth to school. But it’s different now.”

Council members have said that cruising the Boulevard has always been a part of Myrtle Beach’s culture. Mitchell said most of the cars that cruise the Boulevard now blast profane music and pedestrians spend their time screaming at cars.

“I’m of the idea that we need to try it,” she said. “We need to reinvent our [negative] atmosphere downtown. What I’m seeing that is causing the atmosphere is the car activity.”

If OMA chooses to hold an activity May 10 it would apply for a special event permit, which then would have to be approved by City Council. Leath said City Council members would prefer the request came from OMA.

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