A rift between a downtown business group and the Myrtle Beach City Council ended Friday with a heartfelt apology from the association’s new leader and a pledge by city officials to cut a check for $275,000 that ensures boardwalk festivals will continue this summer.
“We’ve done a lot of things right, we’ve done a few things wrong,” said Chris Walker, who was elected last week to replace Rick Sarver as president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association (OMA). “I think we got a little derailed over the last year.”
OMA, which was formed about a decade ago, sponsors events and activities in the Ocean Boulevard area, including Hot Summer Nights and the popular St. Patrick’s Day festival, which was canceled this year shortly after the city declined to pay $2,800 for festival policing and clean up as it has done in past years. Mayor John Rhodes said the festival’s cancellation was a “smack in the city’s face.”
I think we got a little derailed over the last year.
Chris Walker, president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association
Walker said the group’s efforts were derailed because of Sarver’s campaign last year for a seat on Myrtle Beach City Council. Sarver was not elected in November, garnering about 5 percent of the overall votes.
Sarver’s campaign was critical of some city services and public events, and he suggested on his campaign website that Myrtle Beach had neglected the downtown area, leading to more crime. His website described some downtown events as promoting lewd and crude behavior, and he pledged to only support events that were family friendly.
“It just derailed publicly, privately and all over the place -- there were some negative feelings,” Walker said of the campaign.
Sarver was not at the council committee meeting Friday and could not be reached for comment. His wife, DeAnn Sarver, said they never intended to make the political campaign difficult for other merchants or the city.
“We love Myrtle Beach and we love what OMA is doing, and we had no intention to harm either,” she said. “So we just apologize for any misunderstandings, and just want the best for both.”
Walker, who owns several businesses along Ocean Boulevard including Nightmare Haunted House and Mad Myrtle’s Ice Creamery, served as OMA’s president prior to Sarver taking the post about a year ago.
Back at the helm, Walker said he wanted to get past the conflict and prove to the city that boardwalk businesses appreciated all of the financial support the city and Downtown Redevelopment Corp. has provided, which in the past three years totaled nearly $1.1 million.
“I would like to start off with a clean slate ... and apologize for any perception that the businesses down here were against the city in any way,” Walker said.
“In hindsight, if someone is leading an organization and then running for public office, they should divorce themselves from that partnership from the get-go, unless it’s wholly endorsed by the group, and it certainly wasn’t,” Walker said.
Rhodes accepted Walker’s apology for the campaign, but questioned the association for canceling the St. Patrick’s Day festival.
“That was the biggest smack in the city’s face you could have ever done,” Rhodes said.
Association members told Rhodes that the event was canceled without their knowledge because of logistical reasons and sponsorship cancellations, not just because the city declined to pay $2,800 for policing and cleanup.
Councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said she will recommend to the full council at Tuesday’s meeting that the city provide $75,000 from accommodation tax funds and an additional $200,000 from Downtown Redevelopment Corp. funding to pay for Hot Summer Nights, which includes weekly fireworks, concerts, a kids’ carnival and other activities in the boardwalk area from June through August.
The money will not go directly to the association, but city staff will organize the events and pay the bills. The merchants will be expected to cover the costs for the marketing for Hot Summer Nights and future events paid for by the city.