By Jim Hulen, North Myrtle Beach Online.com
July 2, 2012 North Myrtle Beach, SC – With the Fourth of July crowd in town for the holiday, restaurateurs, hoteliers, beach rental companies are all going for the green. Every business is striving to provide the best possible beach experience for our visitors. Happy faces abound, specials scream from store windows and billboards compete for bragging rights that they and only they offer the true great vacationing experience. The community is putting its best foot forward, embracing our guests; welcoming them.
Scene repeated over and over
But are we doing enough? Will they come again? There may be one sour lemon in the entire vacationing package that is North Myrtle Beach.
We went from the north end of Ocean Boulevard in Cherry Grove to 48th Avenue S. in Windy Hill and found people struggling to find a parking spot. Street ends were full; cars were pulling in, checking out the lack of spots, backing out and rushing to the next parking area. We saw more backup lights than we saw cars sliding into parking sports. Side street parking was no better - not only jammed but parked cars overflowed into unauthorized areas surely irritating residents.
There are around 5,000 rental units under property management with a capacity of 35 thousand persons, while hotels have only 3,000 rooms with a capacity of 12 thousand persons.
Rentals are the key to the North Myrtle Beach economy. Rental units represent 16% of gross receipts while hotel/motels generate only 4%. Ocean front resorts don’t have a beach access problem but rental homes, the key to the economy, depend upon guests either willing to walk or, if too far away, driving to the beach.
Maybe it’s time to resurrect the focus the North Myrtle Beach Council had at one time on expanding beach access parking. Don’t get us wrong, the council has made progress since they initiated a parking study in 2007. The report concluded that the city was short by 800 public parking spots. North Myrtle Beach subsequently put up signage adding parking within the first three rows from Where did they park?the ocean, creating an additional 256 parking spaces – one third of the shortage estimated by the consultant. All of which, as far as we could tell, were packed today.
A booming economy in 2005-2007 created expectations of the city acquiring third row properties and erecting parking garages. In many negotiated agreements during that period, council received developer commitments to put money in a parking fund, but most of the monies were due when units were built. With a slow economy, no units are being built and thus no monies flowing to meet the parking needs.
Maybe it’s time to revisit the parking study. The consultant pointed out that comparable beach communities, included Myrtle Beach, SC, Wrightsville Beach, NC, Virginia Beach, Va., along with five other cities all metered their public parking and generated parking revenues from $1.1 to $2.2 million. North Myrtle Beach’s neighbor, Myrtle Beach, generates $1.1 million annually from parking meters. Use that money to acquire land and build parking garages. Would metered parking be opposed by residents? The consultant’s study said 66% of residents were willing to pay for parking.
We want our visitors to have a good experience when they come here and we certainly want for them to have access to the beach. Isn’t that what draws them here in the first place?