City eyes reopening with ‘foot on the gas pedal and pay attention, please’

Myrtle Beach on May 3, 2020. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

With more businesses opening and the boulevard becoming active, Myrtle Beach city leaders eyed what it means for city parks, municipal courts and recreation during a meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor Brenda Bethune said city residents and the business community must remain vigilant when dealing with COVID-19 guidelines.

“Let’s work together to keep this virus from spreading because that would be so detrimental – to the business, to the hospitality industry, to Myrtle Beach as a whole – if this virus spikes at all,” she said about the city reopening. “So just keep your foot on the gas pedal and pay attention, please.”

Running through a list of statistics, the city’s emergency management director said the numbers support reopening measures.

“Our hospitals are doing good. They didn’t exceed their capacity,” Bruce Arnell said. “Horry County’s death rate hasn’t increased in the last three days.”

As of Monday, there had been 331 deaths statewide with 18 in Horry County. Horry County has had 262 people test positive for COVID-19, Arnell said, compared to the state total of 7,653 as of Monday.

By May 18, the city plans to reopen Myrtle’s Market and the Barc Parc locations in The Market Common area and off 62nd Avenue North. The municipal court will also have bond hearings twice a day and the law enforcement center will open the lobby limited to two members of the public at once and one person at a time in the city’s clerk of court office.

Visitation of inmates can resume.

The city’s municipal court is slated to resume on June 1, but only 40 defendants will be allowed in the courtroom at a time. The Quality of Life Court is scheduled to resume on June 17 with only defendants allowed in the courtroom.

Meanwhile, the city is installing signs reminding beachgoers of social distancing. The signs will be at each of the 140 beach access points and cost about $23,000.

However, playground equipment and exercise equipment will remain closed until May 23, pending an order from Gov. Henry McMaster. The city has public exercise equipment installed around the Grand Lake in The Market Common area and in the Cabana section from Gardens By The Sea playground to Haskell Circle on North Ocean Boulevard.

Fox Simons, deputy city manager, said the playgrounds with shelters, Matt Hughes Skate Park, tennis and outdoor pickleball courts are expected to open by May 23. But, he said, the city will ask those playing tennis and pickleball to use their own equipment and limit play to singles. He said there can be doubles play if all four players live in the same household.

By June 1, Simons said, nearly all the city parks and centers are expected to reopen including Chapin Memorial Library, the hockey rink in The Market Common area and Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium.

Simons said the recreation centers may have to remain closed to the public for the summer to accommodate the children registered for summer camp. He said there are 230 children registered and city residents rely on the camp for childcare. Pepper Geddings and Mary C. Canty recreation centers had been the site of the camps, but other recreation centers would likely have to be used to allow for social distancing. The city’s other recreation centers are Crabtree Memorial Gymnasium and the Robert H. Reed Recreation Center.

Additionally, he said, the city is expecting sport tourism to continue through the summer months.

By the end of the month, he said, there will be 36 youth baseball teams and 90 adult softball teams playing at the fields in The Market Common area at the Grand Park.

To maintain social distancing guidelines, he said, the teams will have to warm up in outfields as parents and/or spectators stay in their vehicles. The teams will sit in extended dugouts as spectators remain distant from one another seating around the edge of the field. Once the games are complete, the spectators will be asked to go directly to their vehicles and the teams will not have the traditional handshakes on the field.

The dugouts will be cleared and cleaned before another team is allowed to enter.

By June, Simons said, the scheduled events are scattered from the Grand Park to Ned Donkle and the Ripken Experience with 350 teams of youth baseball and adult softball.

He said the first summer-season event to happen at the Myrtle Beach Sports Center will likely be the Ramon Sessions Youth Basketball Camp June 8-11. Other events scheduled for June include cheerleading and youth basketball camps.

Other special events on the books for the city beginning in June include the Deville Street Farmers Market, Hot Summer Nights concerts at Plyler Park off Ocean Boulevard, the Irish and Italian festivals and Woofstock at the Grand Park. The Ground Zero Dragon Boat Races are scheduled for Aug. 22 with the Waves of Praise Concert slated for Sept. 4-5 at the Pavilion Place. The Carolina Country Music Fest is scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at the Pavilion Place while the Shriners Parade is slated for Sept. 19 on the south end of Ocean Boulevard.

“We’ve got to be careful,” councilman Mike Chestnut said of the city’s reopening for the summer. “That’s all I’ve got to say. We’ve got to be careful.”

Simons reminded the council that while many services have been stopped and parks closed, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and city-owned Whispering Pines Golf Course have remained opened. He added there have been serval virtual classes that have occurred to help city residents including exercise classes, art classes and story time reading.

The Retro 80’s Aerobics Class streamed on Facebook drew 4,100 views for 2,234 minutes, he said.

City Manager John Pedersen said the city has issued eight executive orders since mid-March concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the eight, he said, two have lapsed. The remaining orders are allowing the city to have electronic meetings, allowing restaurants and bars to use additional signage, waiving hybrid parking space fees for hotels on the boulevard, requiring delivery drivers and driving services to use masks and gloves while requiring social distancing and to allow for new reservations to be made at hotels, campgrounds and resorts after May 15. The final order in place allows for businesses to make flexible payments on business licenses and utility bills as well as accommodation taxes and hospitality fees.

The city council asked Pedersen to apply for a $29,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to reimburse the fire department for personal protective equipment used in the COVID-19 crisis.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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