Gov. Nikki Haley pledged Friday to continue to send 600 officers to the Grand Strand for Memorial Day weekend, but she said officials will reach out to Atlantic Beach town officials, who host the weekend’s annual Bikefest, and offer assistance to boost their tourism throughout the year if they will cancel the festival.
Haley and executive state officials were in Conway to talk about hurricane preparedness Friday morning. She and other local officials took the time to address how the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest went and what preparations are underway for next year.
“We had the whole team come together and say ‘how are we going to handle this?’” Haley said.
Horry County Council’s Chairman Mark Lazarus said Friday a year ago to the day, officials had their first conversation about changes that needed to be made to the weekend. Last year, he said officials were on the “edge of the seat” and this year they were being thanked for their plans.
“She didn’t stick her toe in to see how the water was, she jumped in head first,” Lazarus said. “The tone is so much different today than it was a year ago.”
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes gave Haley a city coin as a token of appreciation for her help this year with resources for the city.
“Last year you made commitment and you didn’t wavier,” Rhodes said.
A call to action was made by area officials and residents last year after three people were killed and seven hurt during eight separate shootings along Ocean Boulevard.
During last week, police responded to two shootings in Myrtle Beach, which included one person being hurt and one person being shot at during a robbery attempt, officials said. Both shootings occurred at the same resort complex on Ocean Boulevard.
This year, the number of officers sent to assist local agencies with crowd and traffic control tripled from previous years, Haley said. She also expects the sidewalk barriers to stay in place and for a one-way traffic loop along Ocean Boulevard and 29th Avenue North to remain in the future.
“This was a beautiful team effort,” Haley said. “Safety first; that’s what we can all smile about because that’s what we had.”
The 600 officers sent by other agencies also underwent sensitivity training before they arrived for the weekend, Haley said.
“We welcome tourists, but we wanted to remind them to abide by the law,” Haley said. “There was a respect this weekend we didn’t have here before. ... Myrtle Beach needed us. Our goal is to continue giving them what they need.”
Haley said she and other state officials have reached out to Atlantic Beach town officials with options of how to increase their tourism activities throughout the year, so they don’t have to rely on the one weekend for the bulk of their economy. But in exchange, Haley said they want the town to forgo Bikefest.
Town officials could not be reached Friday for comment about those options and efforts.
“We are prepared to come in and create that as a destination year around,” Haley said. “They have not taken us up on that yet.”
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or on Twitter @tonyaroot.