ATLANTIC BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Nikki Haley urged the Atlantic Beach Town Council on Tuesday to end the town's annual biker festival and promised to work to help transform the tiny beachfront community into a family-friendly destination that tourists from across the nation will visit.
"Please help us put an end to what we know as Bikefest," Haley urged the council in the wake of a rash of violence during this year's festival on Memorial Day weekend.
But Mayor Jake Evans, who has repeatedly said the event won't end, told reporters that "there's nothing on the table for us to get rid of Bikefest."
"If she wants to help Atlantic Beach in any other kind of way, the citizens of Atlantic Beach and me as the mayor and town council welcome that," he said, noting that the town is open to efforts to make the event safer.
Bikefest attracts tens of thousands of bikers to the small, predominantly black seaside community of about 350 year-round residents. This year, while there was no trouble in Atlantic Beach, there were eight shootings, with three deaths, in nearby communities along the Grand Strand.
"I see value in Atlantic Beach. I see opportunity in Atlantic Beach," the governor said. "But instead of talking about the people of Atlantic Beach and the pride that is associated with Atlantic Beach, we're on the front page of USA Today" with a story about the violence.
Haley proposed that the town and state work together to showcase the history of Atlantic Beach, known as the Black Pearl. During the days of segregation, it was the only place on the Grand Strand where blacks could go to the beach.
She said the town could be redeveloped re-creating the era when the beach community was thriving and "we had Ferris wheels, restaurants and hotels."
"I would like to work with you along with my director of tourism to find a way to make sure this is a vacation spot that people from all over the country will want to see. In order for me to help you do that, I need your help," the governor said.
The $60,000 or so the town makes on Bikefest fees is a big chunk of its $500,000 annual budget.
But, Haley said, "I promise you that you will get the same amount of revenue. I promise you that you will have as many people."
Town council members had no questions after the governor's brief comments. Evans said the council would consider Haley's suggestions.
Haley pressed as to when there could be another meeting and Evans said he would get back to her within a month or so.