By Paul Gable
Horry County Council will vote tonight on first reading of an ordinance to amend county code reducing the number of days vendor permits will be issued for May Bike Weeks from the current seven days to five days.
Word has it that county council chairman Tom Rice has been working this issue hard behind the scenes with a series of private meetings with other council members, some of these meetings falling just short of a quorum. Initially Rice wanted to limit the vendor permits to three days, but fell short of getting commitments from council members to support such a measure.
There is no guarantee that the five day proposal will pass tonight, or that Rice would be able to hold a coalition supporting it together, while the ordinance winds its way through the three reading process.
One of the difficulties with the ordinance, and holding support together for it, comes from the wording of the ordinance itself. As it is currently written, the ordinance allows the county to establish a consecutive five day period for which permits will be issued.
With the Harley Davidson Bike Week running from May 14-20, it is very conceivable that the county would establish the five day period from May 14-18, thereby cutting any weekends out of vendor permitting. It is hard to believe vendors would be agreeable to paying the same amount of money for the new five day permits that they paid for the current seven day permits that included one weekend.
In fact, before the seven day permits came into existence three years ago, the vendor permits were issued, at the same price, for 10 consecutive days that included two weekends. Weekends traditionally have the highest attendance for bike weeks and the largest amount of vendor sales.
This ordinance amendment, as currently written, could be a further attempt by the county to follow the example of the City of Myrtle Beach in discouraging attendance at the Harley Davidson bike rally. The Atlantic Beach Bikefest will be unharmed by the change in county issued vendor permits as the rally traditionally runs only four days and vendor permits in recent years have been applied for only inside the town limits.
Are vendors important to attendance and success of the bike rally, which used to be an important event for the tourist industry? Will Rice further follow his cohorts in Myrtle Beach and try to pass a county wide one-cent tourism sales tax, exactly as the city did after its crackdown on the Harley Davidson rally?