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John Willis (right) and his friend's motorcycles gets looks at Spokes and Bones Saloon in Garden City Beach during the Myrtle Beach Bike Week Spring Rally. Willis and Steve Tyre had front wheels as back wheels on their motorcycles. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Horry County Council has given its blessing to a July motorcycle rally.

Council members on Tuesday disagreed with county staff’s recommendation that they prohibit businesses from obtaining vending and special event permits for a July event. Those permits are needed for large outdoor gatherings.

“Our businesses are hurting right now,” councilman Tyler Servant said. “We need every potato in the pot to support our businesses. And if that means pulling together to make a one-time exemption for a rally to bring tourists to our area, we need to do it.”

Both the spring Harley-Davidson rally and Atlantic Beach Bikefest are typically held in May, but the events were postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis.

When the idea of a July Harley rally was first proposed, county staff raised questions. Citing concerns about the cost of policing five bike rallies in a one-year timeframe, they asked the organizers of the spring Harley rally to simply combine that event with their normal fall rally. Some businesses agreed that was the best option, but others wanted to hold a rally from July 13-19 and even coordinated their plans with biker businesses in other popular destinations such as Daytona Beach, Florida, and Sturgis, South Dakota. 

During Tuesday’s council meeting, county staff said they typically use accommodations tax revenues to help cover the cost of additional public safety services for rally events and that revenue stream has been essentially nonexistent since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Another funding source, hospitality fees on restaurant meals, hotel stays and admission tickets, is unavailable because of a pending lawsuit with the city of Myrtle Beach.

A July rally “is going to put a strain on accommodations tax that we don’t have,” councilman Gary Loftus said. “I don’t understand how we’re going to fund it all."

Loftus said he's heard concerns from residents and he worries that tourists won't realize this is a one-time event and the rally will return to the spring next year.

"It’s overkill,” he said.

However, Loftus was the lone vote in opposition to the summer dates.

Other council members pointed out that of the $800,000 the county typically spends on public safety services for the May bike rallies, about $170,000 goes toward the Harley-Davidson event. The rest covers services for Atlantic Beach Bikefest. That event has been pushed back to Labor Day weekend and county officials said they don't have any control over it because Bikefest is anchored in the town of Atlantic Beach.

Proponents also said the Grand Strand is struggling because of the business closures caused by the COVID-19 crisis and they need to welcome all tourists, including bikers. Servant pointed out that the county has about $80 million in reserves and could dip into those if the need arises.  

"I don't believe we're in a position right now to be turning any tourists away," he said. "We need everybody that we can get to come to our beaches and spend money in our restaurants and spend money in our retailers and rent hotel rooms from us."

Some leaders said the rally will be so small it shouldn't strain public safety services.

“There’s plenty of room for them,” councilman Harold Worley said, adding that he would be surprised to see 25 bikers at his North Myrtle Beach hotel for the July rally. “It’s just not going to be a big deal. I don’t understand why staff does not want business to come to the Grand Strand. I don't understand that.” 

Most council members agreed the rally will be smaller this year and the additional tourism would benefit both businesses and county coffers.

"If they come, the money will come,” Worley said.

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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I'm the editor of myhorrynews.com and the Carolina Forest Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Horry County, South Carolina. I cover county government, the justice system and agriculture. Know of a story that needs to be covered? Call me at 843-488-7236.

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