If all goes as Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes hopes, a portion of Ocean Boulevard downtown would be shut down from Easter to Labor Day to allow only pedestrian traffic at night as soon as this year.
The mayor said Wednesday allowing room for more pedestrians on the section of Ocean Boulevard from Seventh Avenue North to Mr. Joe White from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. would encourage those people to go into the shops instead of drive past them.
“If you’re in your car and riding, you’re not spending,” he said. “Think about Broadway at the Beach. They park there and walk. They park there and spend money. So why would they not spend money on the Boulevard?”
The Downtown Redevelopment Corp. board members said Wednesday during their annual retreat that they agreed with the concept and would look into the logistics before sending a recommendation to City Council.
Rhodes said the idea stems from what is done in the French Quarter in New Orleans, where Bourbon Street and surrounding roads are open during the day to allow deliveries to restaurants and shops, but closed at night to allow pedestrians to easily walk around.
“The sidewalks aren’t very wide [in downtown Myrtle Beach] and it gets crowded,” Rhodes said.
Many DRC members and other downtown stakeholders said most of the logistics would have to be figured out before the board makes any suggestion to City Council.
“I think it’s a good idea, but it’s certainly going to take a whole lot of research and a lot of work,” police Chief Warren Gall said. “It would increase foot traffic and business on that street.”
City manager Tom Leath said if the city decides to pursue the idea, the Myrtle Beach Planning Commission and then the City Council would have to approve it.
“If everybody says, ‘Yes, this is a great idea,’ it could be in place by this season,” he said. “But I think [the DRC] is going to have a fair amount of discussion about it. And the Planning Commission would likely have a fair amount of discussion. And City Council probably would as well.”
DRC executive director David Sebok said he wasn’t sure that shutting down three blocks of the Boulevard was something that should happen every night, but possibly on weekends.
Members also noted that closing a portion of the Boulevard would increase traffic on nearby streets. Gall noted that for years people have come to Myrtle Beach to cruise the Boulevard.
“They bring cars [and] drive the Boulevard,” he said. “People want to see the cars. The people in the cars want to see the people walking. But nobody’s going into the shops.”
Eli Jones with DDC Engineers, Inc., said for some people, the cars on the Boulevard are part of the appeal.
“One of the reasons people come down here is to see the nice rides,” Jones said. “From an engineering and police standpoint, having a thoroughfare on Chester Street or Withers would be a very beneficial thing to try to pursue.”
But Craig Atkins, manager at Ripley’s Entertainment, said “We’ll have increased traffic on nearby streets, but instead of driving, they’ll start walking.”
Oceanfront Merchants Association President Chris Walker said he was open to trying the mayor’s idea. Walker owns two businesses on the stretch of Ocean Boulevard that would be closed at night.
“I know it might be surprising but I like the idea of trying to close the Boulevard at night,” he said. “And I like it because if it doesn’t work you can flip it back around.”
All of the plans are in the early stages and more information will be released as it becomes available.