The atmosphere in Myrtle Beach City Council chambers was completely different than this time last year as residents and business owners thanked the city for the plans put in place to try to make sure Memorial Day weekend was as safe as it could be.
“I was upset last year,” David Perkins said during a City Council meeting Tuesday. “I was pissed off. This year, I want to apologize. ... This year was so much better.”
About 15 people spoke Tuesday, many of them praising City Council for implementing plans such as a 23-mile traffic loop, placing barricades along Ocean Boulevard to separate pedestrians from traffic and establishing an emergency lane on Ocean Boulevard for first responders.
Last year – after a violent Memorial Day weekend that left three people dead and seven injured in eight shootings along Ocean Boulevard – hundreds of angry residents filled council chambers and about 30 people voiced their frustrations, imploring the city to “do something” to make the weekend safer.
This year, police reported two shootings in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend; a shooting with injuries – that resulted in an arrest hours later – and one report of “shots fired” in a robbery attempt. Both incidents occurred at Compass Cove Resort on South Ocean Boulevard.
Tens of thousands of people travel to the Grand Strand each year on Memorial Day weekend to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach or participate in events such as Atlantic Beach Bikefest.
“Thank you,” said Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Dean. “Thank you for taking decisive action to control what has been an otherwise uncontrollable event. Now is the time to think about how we move forward. ... Let’s not let any grass grow under our feet in planning and preparing for 2016.”
Most who spoke praised the city’s efforts, though many asked for changes to be made to the traffic loop.
The loop, which operated nightly from Friday to Sunday, routed all drivers from 29th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
“The traffic loop was very inconvenient,” said local resident Lance Wallace. “A lot of people broke down. ... My sister works on [Ocean] Boulevard and she couldn’t get home. Her job had to provide a room for her to stay.”
Some who spoke suggested creating a decal system that lets those manning the loop know that the driver is a resident or works in the area and needs to get through.
Mayor John Rhodes said he thought that was a good idea.
“That was a valid point that was brought to our attention that we’ll take into consideration,” he said.
Shai David, who owns Sea Palms Motel on Seventh Avenue North, said while he understands the city needed to do something to curb crime and violence on Memorial Day weekend, he believes that enthusiasm is needed year-round.
“What is the plan that we are going to put in place to ensure that Chester Street and Flagg Street are going to be just as safe as they were this past year?” he asked. “All year there is one arrest in the area on a daily basis. Drug dealing, prostitution, vagrancy, you name it. It’s almost like a war zone.”
David said he is frustrated that more attention isn’t paid to that part of town during other times of the year, especially when he’s never had a problem at his motel in the last five years.
“We’ve never had problems,” he said. “I had 600 people there this weekend. We lost one remote and two keys. That’s it. ... The worst problems we have is during the off season with locals with the homeless and criminal element in that area.”
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means reminded David the city is pursuing placing a police substation in that part of town to help with the crime issues, though no timetable has been set for when the station would be up and running.
Council members remarked how much better this year’s post-Memorial Day council meeting went compared to the two hours of complaints they heard from angry residents and business owners last year.
“It was really nice to hear the community come to us today with positive comments,” Rhodes said. “It sure was better than last year.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.