Myrtle Beach area motorcyle rally attendance uncertain

The Supreme Court heard two lawsuits against Myrtle Beach at the beginning of February, both of them asking the court to force the city to rescind its local helmet law because, they say, it supersedes state law.

The court’s pattern is to issue its rulings on Mondays, which means it still could drop an opinion this week that would be in time to allow people to book rooms before the rally starts.

The state law says only people younger than 21 must wear helmets, but as part of its 14 ordinances targeting the may motorcycle rallies, Myrtle Beach decided everyone riding within city limits must wear one. that decision more than any of the city’s other ordinances angered many riders. many boycotted the city last may, the first rally with the new helmet law, and said they would not return at other times of the year, either.

Welborn and many others are wondering why the court hasn’t issued a ruling yet.

Tom Herron, spokesman for Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism – one of the parties involved in the Supreme Court suits – said he’s not surprised it is taking a while for a decision to come down.

“We have to be realistic. It’s not about motorcycles and helmets. It’s bigger than that. It’s about the power of municipalities,” he said. “If it was just about helmets, the court could have probably issued a ruling the same day.”

Herron said he feels confident the court’s opinion will be in the favor of the anti-helmet crowd.

“There’s no way to know. and truthfully, even if we win, it will be a hollow victory,” he said. “All it will do is show the ends don’t justify the means. The damage has been done.”

Todd Leggens, a BOOST member, said he doubts that many who were personally offended by the city’s stance will ever come back.

Last year’s spring rally was much quieter than the may gatherings in previous years, and this year looks to be shaping up the same, he said. Leggens, who helps manage three motels for BOOST founding member Robert Kelly, said Kelly’s two motels that have Myrtle Beach addresses – Microtel Inn and Suites and Sleep Inn and Suites on U.S. 501 – even though they are not inside city limits, have hardly any rally-week reservations yet.

However, Kelly’s North Myrtle Beach motel – Super 8 near Barefoot – is about 70 percent full for rally week, Leggens said.

Taylor Damonte, director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University, which performs regular accommodations studies, said in the past, regardless of when the spring rally started, the volume of room reservations would start increasing the week before because people would come to the area days or even a week before the rally began.

He said occupancy rates began declining during the spring Harley rally period in 2007, and right now, the week starting may 8 is 55 percent booked. it was 52 percent at the same time last year.

He predicts the rates will go up another 5 percent to 6 percent, but emphasized that it could have a lot or a little to do with the rally or Myrtle Beach’s new festivals or weather, or any number of other factors.

“Will we get to where we were in 2006 or ’07? I doubt it,” Damonte said. “But we just don’t know.”

Welborn said he thinks the boycott and threats by some to never return were some people’s initial reaction, but he doesn’t think they will be carried out. he hopes not, anyway, because, he said, many of his friend here own small businesses such as motels and restaurants, and “they are the ones being hurt.”

City spokesman Mark Kruea said he would not comment on the court case. The city, which has said it does not want to be the epicenter of the rallies that drew upward of half a million people at their peak, has moved on and is planning events throughout may designed to increase tourism and let a diverse group of potential tourists know there is room for them here during may.

The rally will still go on, in a shorter time period, in Horry County, and North Myrtle Beach spokeswoman Nicole Aiello said her city is planning for large crowds, as it does every year.

“It has worked well for us,” she said. “We will have extra officers on duty and will enforce the laws, as we always have. We don’t foresee any major problems, but if there are any, we’ll be prepared.”

Spots throughout the county where events are held and vendors set up – which have always been popular with rally-goers – such as The Beaver Bar, SBB The Original and SBB Four Corners, H.B. Spokes, The Broken Spoke, Harley-Davidson of Myrtle Beach and the Harley Dealership in North Myrtle Beach and Barefoot Landing will still likely be crowded with people.

Mike Shank, who organizes the vendors at Barefoot Landing, said he’s got 30 to 35 scheduled to come, and although that’s fewer than in years past, he said he hopes there will still be a crowd.

But, he said, not all the vendor permits sold this year, a situation “that probably hasn’t happened in a very long time,” he said.

Other places ralliers have congregated, however, have shut down since the economy took a nosedive and Myrtle Beach made its anti-rally stand. The Dog House, B&M Custom Cycles, Studebakers and Marti’s Bar have all closed, as have several other businesses that used to cater to the rally-goers.

One difference people might notice this year is less traffic. Now that people have learned the less crowded routes around the Grand Strand, such as S.C. 31 and S.C. 22, traffic might not be as heavy as it once was, Aiello said.

Myrtle Beach area motorcyle rally attendance uncertain