By Barney Blakeney
Even with scattered rains the annual Memorial Day Weekend, Black Bikefest wasn’t a complete washout. But the event continued in steady decline. According to one estimate, only about 25,000 attendees showed up for the 38-year-old annual event that in the past has drawn about 300,000. And revenues to the town of Atlantic Beach where the event originated also is declining.
Mayor Jake Evans said town council hasn’t met since the Memorial Day weekend Bikefest to formally discuss its impact. But last year revenues to the town from the event totaled about $25,000. He suspects that’s about what the town took in this year. The adjacent Town of Myrtle Beach likely saw a different economic picture, he said.
Former Atlantic Beach Town Councilman and business owner John Skeeters acknowledged Atlantic Beach doesn’t have the business infrastructure – hotels, restaurants and retail stores – to accommodate the attendees the bikefest brings to the Grand Strand. Atlantic Beach was the draw that initially brought revelers to the area, but without accommodations that cater to them, Myrtle Beach became its primary economic beneficiary. That won’t change without investments in business and entertainment infrastructure, Skeeters said.
Evans said the history of Atlantic Beach should be a factor in people’s desire to attend bikefest. In the past, Atlantic Beach was the center of the Carolina beach community for Blacks. But at the end of the day, bikefest is a celebration that the town hopes has a positive financial impact. The Grand Strand, after all, is a vacation/business destination. That should be on everybody’s mind, he said. Law enforcement issues have made that challenging, he said.
Over time in the city of Myrtle Beach the bikefest has become marred by violence and other illegal behavior. A street party on Bikefest weekend in 2014 resulted in a shooting that killed three people. In 2016 law enforcement in Myrtle Beach made 784 arrests, filed 1,138 charges and answered 3,509 calls for service over the weekend. Myrtle Beach fought back. Business owners closed up during the weekend and law enforcement enacted several initiatives designed to control the crowd and traffic that included increased police presence and a 23-mile one-way traffic loop.
Bikefest is a tradition that continues Atlantic Beach’s history as the Grand Strand’s ‘Black Pearl’, Evans said. Skeeters says it’s becoming a reunion of sorts. Attendees who came to the first events return each year. Despite traffic loops and declining attendance, that will continue, he said.