MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he came here for Spring Break in 1963, and he never left. Now, after more than a decade in office, Rhodes is one of just three mayors to lead the city for three terms. On Monday night, after his last day in office, we are sharing his response to the ups, downs and his proudest accomplishments.
"Well it's still amazing that I had the opportunity to serve the people of Myrtle Beach, be the ambassador, to be a leader," Rhodes said. "It's something I never dreamed of it - just happened. The timing was right and when I decided to run for mayor, same slogan as [Mayor-Elect Brenda Bethune] used this time is, I was the voice for change."
The outgoing Mayor says that change back in 2006 was a unified council, which he says paved the way to much, starting with the Market Common.
"We knew that it was going to be something special - they finally had a plan to develop the Air Force Base property," Rhodes explained. "It was about 4,000 acres there and build an urban city."
That build came, but what came down after dozens of years was the carnival fun of the Pavilion.
"It was heartbreaking, as I say the Pavilion was the heartbeat," Rhodes lamented. "We had no say, we had no say. It was up to the people that owned the property, who owned the business there to decide what their future was."
Rhodes is happy to see festivals like the Carolina Country Music Fest fill the venue.
"I see more festivals taking place down on that area," he said. "That's going to help draw people down to the downtown and give our people there more of an opportunity to thrive," he said.
The Boardwalk, Rhodes said, is another boost to the economy and the community. "We had our local people to start going back down and walking the Boardwalk, had not been downtown for 10 to 15 years," he said.
There were also tax debates. Rhodes says the Tourism Development Fee, a penny tax approved in 2009, meant millions in tourism spending during a recession, and cash back to homeowners. "In two years we gave our owner-occupied residences the largest tax reduction on their property in the history of this state."
Deadly shootings around Memorial Day weekend in 2014 put the city under spotlight. Last Father's Day, a shooting on Ocean Boulevard that was streamed live on Facebook again put Myrtle Beach in the national spotlight.
"Michael, it's - crime is something that you cannot abolish, okay?" Rhodes explained. "It's worldwide. Look what's going on and shootings take place it doesn't matter if you have a police officer on every corner. You cannot stop someone from coming in this town with a gun." Rhodes said he's hopeful the traffic loop will help with crowd control at future Bikefest events.
Another attempt associated with bikers was the helmet law in 2008. Rhodes said residents complained about noise, and doctors complained about deadly head injuries. After two years, the court ruled the city couldn't supersede the state's no-helmet law.
"The Harley people moved on," Rhodes said. "They're starting to come back a little bit, but they're not coming back in groups like we had before, and a lot of them are still upset, and they'll stay in Myrtle Beach, but the go party outside the town like in Murrells Inlet or North Myrtle Beach."
Rhodes says his brain aneurysm in 2013 motivated him to give back through Savannah's Playground. He said back in 2013, he was given a second chance and this is an example of how he's using that chance. Rhodes said his rescue dog River has helped him and his brush with death inspired him to help others through Savannah's Playground.
"Savannah Thompson is a young lady that I've known for a long time, her family Lance, Marjorie," Rhodes said. "She has Williams Syndrome and she has been the poster child of special needs kids and I thought it would be appropriate to name it for her."
Rhodes said he doesn't believe in a legacy, but he believes in those who helped him support the city. He held back tears when asked about the support from his wife, who was there from the very beginning of his first campaign.
"You know it's an amazing woman that can step up…you know, I choke up, so...but I'm just an emotional person at certain things, sort of, you know, hit me," he said. "You know walking away from mayor of Myrtle Beach is very passionate. This city is a passion of mine. This city supported me in everything I've ever done in my life while I've been here, in everything. The people in this city helped me become successful in business and as a mayor. It was not done by myself.
As for what's next, Rhodes will continue expanding the Beach Ball Classic and sports tourism.
We spoke with the Mayor for about 40 minutes in great detail about these topics, as well as how he hopes to expand sports tourism in Myrtle Beach and his future goals for the city. You can watch that entire interview here.