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Myrtle Beach Hoteliers Fret Over City Efforts to Stop Bike Rallies

By Lorena Anderson, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 31, 2008 - Bobby Patel of Surfside Beach loves the gatherings that guarantee income every May.

He has owned the Super 8 Motel on Ocean Boulevard at 27th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach for the past eight years and says the motorcycle rallies are good business for him.

Patel and others say the city's efforts to end the rallies will mean lost revenue.

And it could cost more than that -- in new or additional security measures and in potential financial liability for extra law enforcement and cleanup costs the city incurs if businesses promote unpermitted events, which includes the rallies.

Some merchants say it's going to be difficult.

"I see both sides of the argument," said Buz Plyler, owner of the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on Ocean Boulevard. "Our costs have gone up, our revenue has gone down, so it's going to be an issue for some.

"Some people here are more dependent on the rallies than I am."

City spokesman Mark Kruea said it isn't unreasonable to ask business owners to take control of their own properties.

"Given some of the activities that have occurred on private property during the rallies, more private security is definitely warranted," Kruea wrote in response to e-mailed questions from The Sun News. "Yes, if some of the proposals pass, then private property owners are going to be responsible for what occurs on their property. Previously, the city and the residents have shouldered the expense of dealing with those problems."

In fact, Kruea said, the city spends about $300,000 a year dealing with the bike rallies, including added police protection and extra staff for trash cleanup.

Some business owners, such as Patel and Robert Kelley, who owns the Microtel Inn and Suites and Sleep Inn and Suites on U.S. 501 and a Super 8 near Barefoot Landing, say the city isn't only messing with its own success but the rest of the county's welfare, too.

They argue the rallies bring more revenue than they cost.

The accommodations tax, a 2 percent fee on all rental rooms, is collected by the state, which keeps a portion and redistributes the rest around the state. Kruea said he thinks rooms will not be empty when the May rallies go. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has begun working on a marketing campaign to draw people to the area in the spring. Chamber President Brad Dean said, "The first step was to conduct research of visitors who are likely to travel in the spring and fall, but may not be traveling here. We have not set a date for a presentation, but I anticipate we will offer our recommendations to businesses and public officials in the next few months."

But Patel and Kelly said they won't get the premium prices they do during the rallies. Kelley said rally rooms garner premium prices -- between $150 and $300. Patel said his go for $100 to $150.

Patel said his 40-room hotel brings in about $70,000 each May.

About $60,000 of that comes in during the rallies. He estimates his place is nearly full during the rallies, and at other times in May, he has one-night stays, not the weeklong bookings the rallies draw.

Kruea said not everyone's experience with the rallies is the same. In fact, there are local businesses that have been complaining along with residents for more than a decade about the rallies.

Some businesses have seen profits shrink as the rallies grew.

"During Memorial Day weekend, I used to do a quarter of a million dollars' worth of business," Plyler said recently. "Now I do a tenth of that."

He said Memorial Day weekend used to be mostly families visiting the beach, but that came to an end as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest grew.

Heidi Vukov, owner of Croissants Bakery and Cafe, recently said her successful wedding cake trade -- which should be booming in May, considering the temperate weather and the scenery -- falls far short of other months. She blames the difference in May on bikers.

Kelley is gathering signatures from hotel owners representing more than 2,300 rooms all over the region in a petition to the city, but he and Patel feel they are not being heard.

Kruea said the city is listening; it has heard the pro-rally voices, but its course is set.

"All of the meetings have been public. The subject has received much coverage in the various news media. If council hasn't heard from someone, then it's not council's fault," he said.

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Inside Officials expect fall bike rally to be smaller than previous years -- Page 6C

Spring and fall bike rally statistics and tax revenues -- Page 6C

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.

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To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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