The Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bike Fest has traditionally just encompassed Memorial Day Weekend, but in a surprise move Tuesday, town council expanded it to two weekends. The event was previously scheduled for May 25th-28th.
Atlantic Beach leaders unanimously decided to shift the dates to May 18th through May 28th. Click here to read the ordinance in its entirety.
Those are the same dates as Myrtle Beach Harley Davidson's spring rally, Cruisin' the Coast, which was previously scheduled for May 14th-20th. The dealership moved the dates because they wanted to incorporate Memorial Day events. The decision ruffled feathers in the business community and of Horry County Council. Many businesses had already planned events for the original dates and say they'll stick with those dates. As for Horry County Council, members decided last month to only issue vendor permits for Harley's original dates, May 14th-20th, and for the May 24th-27th Bike Fest.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Retha Pierce says the Department of Health and Environmental Control doesn't inspect food vendors for 3-day festivals. So, she says they decided to move to a 4-day festival in order to get the inspections. Then, she says they learned DHEC allowed for the inspection to cover up to 14 days, so the town decided to do 10 days.
DHEC Regional Food Supervisor Tom Eshleman confirmed what Pierce said.
This year, DHEC decided, because of budget shortfalls, vendors at events lasting only 1-3 days will no longer be inspected, said Eshleman.
"Events that last more than three days but no longer than 14 days will be inspected by DHEC," said Eshleman.
For those events, inspectors will physically go out to the vendor sites and make sure they have the required equipment, said Eshleman.
"In years past, we would go out to Atlantic Beach Bike Fest, even as a three day event," said Eshleman. "This would have been the first year we would not go out there."
Pierce said, in order to protect the town from lawsuits, they wanted the DHEC inspections.
Council members discussed the possibility of bringing in a ferris wheel and a mechanical bull to give the festival a more "family-friendly" atmosphere.
Atlantic Beach is in Horry County's District 1. Council member Harold Worley said he was not approached by city leaders about the change.
"I don't understand what they are doing," said Worley. "But reality is, I don't see a lot of people coming for that Mon-Thurs."
Worley called the move political not practical.
"Sure they will have some backlash from county council. There is some on city council that want to expand tourism in Atlantic Beach, and we agree with that and want help them move Atlantic Beach forward," said Worley. "But I don't know what they have in mind to promote during Harley week. I don't know what they are trying to tap for two weeks versus one week. The reason there is a lot more people on Memorial Day is simple because the Monday being a holiday."
South Carolina Highway Patrol assists Atlantic Beach police during the Bike Fest. Cpl. Sonny Collins said Highway Patrol is aware of the change and will evaluate if the department will make adjustments to how it covers this year's Bike Fest.
Cruisin' the Coast Harley Rally leaders said they still plan to keep their event from the 18th-28th.
"The more the merrier," said rally organizer Denise Triece. "They are just tourists on bikes."
Triece said some vendors are planning to come for one weekend while others are planning to set up their tents for both weekends.
"Our vendors will have to close down after the seven day permit ends and open back up for the other permit," said Triece.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, council members voted 3 to 1 to hire Calvin Blanton as the town's interim manager.
Windy Price, Carolyn Cole and Mayor Retha Pierce voted in favor of Blanton. Jake Evans voted against the motion.
Blanton will work part-time for the remainder of the fiscal year which ends July 1. Blanton previously balanced the books for Atlantic Beach.
In 2008, The North Carolina State Board of Certified Public Accountant Examiners revoked Blanton's CPA license after he pled guilty to failure to file income taxes for both his company and himself.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Cole said Blanton disclosed that information to them.