Temporarily closing Ocean Boulevard to vehicles in order to increase foot traffic for boardwalk area businesses is a promotional idea that some merchants say they are willing to entertain, although they are skeptical it will bring a significant influx of tourists to the area.
The idea was originally proposed by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes in 2014, but it didn’t gain much traction with the city council and no action was ever taken to make the idea a reality.
“When I talked about closing the boulevard … you’d have thought that the Gay Dolphin would be torn down,” Rhodes said about the reaction to his original proposal.
Rhodes broached the subject again with the Oceanfront Merchants Association (OMA) during a council committee meeting Friday that was originally called to discuss funding the organization’s summer events.
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Rhodes and the council committee pledged to seek $275,000 for the association’s Hot Summer Nights series, and Rhodes took advantage of the captive audience of local merchants to repitch his plan.
Rhodes wants to close the boulevard to traffic between 8th Avenue North and Mr. Joe White Avenue from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. on certain nights, perhaps just one night a week as an experiment, to see how tourists and merchants react to the plan.
“When you’re in a vehicle, what can you spend money on?” Rhodes asked. “Two things, getting gas and going through drive-thrus. But if you’ve got parking down there and you need to fill it up and they’ve got to get out and walk, you’re going to make more money.”
“When they’re in the car and there’s a traffic jam and they get tired of it, you know where they go? Broadway at the Beach,” Rhodes said. “They get out of the car and start walking. This is what we want to look at – how do we create more activity down there for you?”
When you’re in a vehicle, what can you spend money on?
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes
Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the boardwalk, said his 50 years of business records show that road closures are a money-losing venture.
“Every single time they closed the road, we were down,” Plyler said. “It’s not something that I feel like is an experiment that is necessary, but I’m willing to do whatever the city wants to.”
Plyler questioned where Myrtle Beach officials have seen successes with road closures to create pedestrian parks. The example provided by Rhodes was Charleston, where King Street is shuttered the first Sunday of the month to make way for street performers and expanded sidewalk sales.
“OMA has to look at it with an open mind,” Rhodes said. “It’s your business and we don’t want to destroy your business – we want to improve your business, we want to drive more there.”
The council committee plans to meet monthly with the merchants, and will work out the logistics of conducing the experimental road shutdown this summer, in order to make final plans for next year.
The proposal to shut down the boulevard for certain events or days would requires approval from the full city council as well as the planning commission.