Gov. Haley urges Atlantic Beach to end Bikefest
ATLANTIC BEACH, S.C. (WCIV/AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley is urging the Atlantic Beach Town Council to work with her to end the town's annual biker festival and work with the state to redevelop the town to make it a family-friendly destination.
The Atlantic Beach Bikefest attracts tens of thousands to the small seaside community every Memorial Day weekend. But this year, there were eight shootings along the Grand Strand, including three people shot and killed at a motel nearby Myrtle Beach.
Haley told the council Tuesday the state stands ready to help with redeveloping the tiny, predominantly black community.
"When you think of Atlantic Beach, this is a real value to South Carolina. This is a historic place that is the only black-owned beach in the country," said Haley.
She promised redevelopment will mean the same revenue and the same amount of visitors the community sees during Bikefest.
"What we are doing is not creating a whole new event but, put a light on Atlantic Beach, show what it used to be in the 40s. But, in order to do that, yes you do have to stop Bikefest; yes you do have to stop the violence associated with it," she said.
Mayor Jake Evans says council is open to suggestions but wants to keep the Bikefest. Evans has a lot of support, including from a man who has long been an attendee of the week.
For at least the last 30 years, Russell Skeeters has attended Atlantic Beach Bikefest. It's one reason why he is against Haley's efforts to end the event all together.
"This is a historic spot," said Skeeters. "If she tries to close this down, she's not only trying to cut out the bike festival, she's destroying this black community."
During Memorial Day weekend, Haley says there were seven shooting-related injuries and three deaths during Bikefest.
According to court records, those shootings happened in Myrtle Beach. At the time of the investigation, officials said it was not clear if the victims were attending the popular bike week.
"So, what I did was pledge to the council to work with them to create a new event, but to create a new environment all the way around all year long," said Haley.
On the other hand, Atlantic Beach bikers say the crime happens outside of their small town.
"I respect the governor and I respect her thoughts, but Atlantic Beach did not have anything to do with the incident that happened in Myrtle Beach," said Skeeters. "So, we should be excluded from that."
Atlantic Beach has a rich African-American history. It is the only black-owned beach in the country. Local bikers say Bikefest is already a family-friendly event that is only tarnished by outside forces.
"During segregation, this is the only beach black people were able to go to," said Sam Cox, a member of the Carolina Knight Riders. "They put it together as a family event. On a Friday night, we have a welcome party for the bikers coming to town. On Saturday, you take your family, go to the beach, enjoy the beach. And then on Saturday nights, we have a dance. On Sunday, we have a bike show. Every bit of that is for the family."
Evans says he and town council members are open to working with the governor but made it clear they will reject any attempt to shut down the event.
"It's unanimous among the council members that actually putting something on the table to actually cancel Bikefest is not something we are interested in at this time," said Evans.
Evans says Atlantic Beach officials will meet with Haley again next month in Columbia.