Gov. Nikki Haley called on the town council of Atlantic Beach Tuesday to end the small community’s annual biker festival, saying crime stemming from the rally has grown out of control.
The Atlantic Beach BikeFest is one of the state’s largest events, drawing an estimated 350,000 people to the Grand Strand each Memorial Day weekend. The sheer number of visitors to the tiny town surrounded almost entirely by North Myrtle Beach causes most bikers to spend their time in neighboring cities.
But leaders in those other towns say they have long been concerned about the rally. Their complaints have often been guarded due to the underlying racial aspects of an event known informally as “Black Bike Week.”
The issue came to a head this May after eight shootings were reported, including one that killed three people, in neighboring communities along the Grand Strand the same weekend as the bike rally. At the time, Haley joined Myrtle Beach mayor John Rhodes and various other Grand Strand political and business leaders to call for the event’s end.
On Tuesday, Haley made the same case before the Atlantic Beach Town Council, asking them to consider eliminating the event and focusing on more family-focused tourism. “This is not about bikers. This is about lawlessness,” she said after the meeting. “This is about the fact that we’re having crime, we’re having arrests, we’re having to bring in 273 state officers just to manage a weekend… That’s what this is about.”
But the Atlantic Beach councilmembers made it clear they are not willing to even consider giving up their town’s biggest tourism draw.
“It’s unanimous among the councilmembers that actually putting something on the table to cancel BikeFest is not something we’re interested in at this time,” Mayor Jake Evans told reporters.
Haley encouraged the council to draw back on the town’s early roots. Atlantic Beach started as a haven for black beachgoers during the days of segregation, when it was the only place they could stay along the popular Grand Strand. However, the end of segregation gradually led most black vacationers to visit the more popular resort areas of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, or elsewhere.
Haley said the community had once included restaurants, hotels, and amusement parks. “It was a real destination. I want to take it back to a destination, but take it to a whole new level,” the governor said. She said the increased tourism would easily cover the $60,000 that Atlantic Beach collects in fees for the annual biker festival.
Town council members had no questions after the governor’s brief comments. Evans said the council would consider Haley’s suggestions.