The mayor of Atlantic Beach said he will do what he can to help the surrounding areas get control of the spillover from the annual BikeFest, but the town has no plan to cancel or make any significant changes to the event.
Mayor Jake Evans said he plans to speak with the mayors of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach to determine what Atlantic Beach can do to avoid violence in other parts of the Grand Strand.
Elected officials have said they are looking for ways to make sure that Myrtle Beach is safe after a violent Memorial Day weekend during which eight confirmed shootings along Ocean Boulevard killed three people and injured seven others.
Evans said BikeFest has grown so much since it began in the 1980s that it makes it difficult for other areas who take on the overflow. He said there’s always a certain percentage of people who cause problems, when more people come to town there are more of those “bad people” in town.
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Evans said those who attended the event in town limits were well-behaved and there had been no reports of the types of “lawlessness” Myrtle Beach residents told City Council members they witnessed.
“I’ve talked to different business owners, citizens, participants, and everyone said it was a well-run event,” he said. “Everybody just raved about how well-behaved everyone was [in Atlantic Beach] ... They said it was well-run and organized. But it’s much easier to maintain a four-block crowd.”
Evans said he thinks a lot of the issues in other areas stem from the age difference between the people who visit Atlantic Beach and those who go to Myrtle Beach.
“This BikeFest got organized in the early ‘80s,” Evans said. “The people who were around when it started, they still come to Atlantic Beach and the younger crowd seems to go to Myrtle Beach.”
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Brad Dean said he believes Atlantic Beach should make sure to be part of any changes made in response to the violence seen in other areas of the Grand Strand.
“Atlantic Beach should strive to be part of the solution,” Dean said. “But regardless of [what Atlantic Beach does] other coastal communities simply must restore order in their communities during Memorial Day weekend.”
Evans said either he or another representative from Atlantic Beach will attend a meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday morning where the mayors of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach as well as Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus plan to ask the state for help.
“We’re meeting with her to let her understand the situation we’re in and we are requesting a meeting with her staff to find out what kind of help the state can offer,” Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said.
Myrtle Beach officials have said they plan to find ways to get crime under control on busy weekends.
“We’re going to do something about it,” Rhodes said. “We’re going to take action. Exactly what action we’ll take, I don’t know yet.”
North Myrtle Beach spokesman Pat Dowling said there seemed to be more people this year in North Myrtle Beach – which surrounds Atlantic Beach – on Memorial Day weekend than in recent years.
During Memorial Day weekend there were 105 arrests and 489 tickets in North Myrtle Beach, compared to 70 and 411, respectively, in 2013. It is the highest arrest total since 112 people were jailed during the event in 2006. Myrtle Beach has not yet released its crime statistics.
Dowling said North Myrtle Beach residents have been fearful since the weekend’s violence in Myrtle Beach.
“What happened in Myrtle Beach has struck fear up here,” he said. “If they clamp down down there, the violence might come up here.”
Evans said residents have told him they enjoy having the event in town and, as mayor of Atlantic Beach, it’s his responsibility to listen to those people.
“That’s who I speak for,” Evans said. “They’re happy and they enjoyed BikeFest.”