Idea proposed to shut down Ocean Blvd traffic

Published: Jan. 10, 2014 at 4:43 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2014 at 12:21 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Cruising the boulevard is part of beach culture, but now city leaders suggest stopping traffic in a certain section of Ocean Boulevard.

The idea comes from Mayor John Rhodes during a brainstorming session on Wednesday, and suggests closing down the boulevard from 9th Avenue North to Mr. Joe White Avenue. City leaders want to get people out of their cars and into local shops.

However, shopkeepers in that area of the boulevard worry that keeping people from driving by will keep them from knowing the stores are there.

"Most people drive by and say 'oh there's a store down there,' they go, they park and they walk. So if you close it off, no one is going to come. There's nothing to be curious about," said Michelle Wilson, an employee on Ocean Boulevard.

The Oceanfront Merchants Association explained the concept is just an idea right now.

"During the retreats, we brainstorm to get an idea of what is important to the city. Every idea is put up and then worked out. This was just one of many ideas discussed that day," explained Chris Walker, the President of the Oceanfront Merchants Association.

Some tourists favor the idea.

"When you're shopping you don't have to pay attention to where you're walking, can go wherever you want to," suggested Lance Anderson. Anderson visits the Grand Strand regularly.

That concept is why the mayor proposed the idea in the first place, the OMA explained he wants this section to feel more like Broadway at the Beach or the Market Common.

The problem the OMA sees is the area is very different from either one of those shopping districts, especially with parking.

"In both of those areas, you have parking circling the area, so people can park and walk. It wouldn't even be possible to have that access to parking in this section of the boulevard," said Walker.

Tom Leath, the Myrtle Beach City Manager, admits there are many details to work out before this suggestion becomes a reality. Some obstacles include traffic.

Leath says if Ocean Boulevard is closed in that section, there is no traffic light at Kings Highway and 7thAve North to divert vehicles. Traffic would have to turn off at the 8th Avenue traffic light.

Shopkeepers worry other side streets could be jammed up and potential customers will avoid the area all together.

"Look at that boulevard out there, even during bike week it can get jam-packed, but we still get business," said Wilson, adding, " We don't have a problem with business, so why change it?"

If the area does close down to traffic, it would only be at night from about 4 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Technically the area could be considered as a festival ground, said Leath, so the city council could possibly allow alcohol outside on the street of that section of the strip.

City leaders say there are no concrete plans to shut down the boulevard to traffic at this time, but will be considering the possibility.

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