Myrtle Beach Bike Week West in the works for Florence

One of the promoters of Myrtle Beach’s Harley-Davidson rally is starting another bike event in Florence dubbed “Myrtle Beach Bike Week West.”

The Motorcycle Expo, set for March 2-3 at the Florence Civic Center, is expected to attract about 100 vendors and between 3,000 and 5,000 bikers, officials said.

Though it has “Myrtle Beach” in the name, it’s not aiming to replace or take away from the beach’s Harley bike rally in May, which has become a much tamer affair after Myrtle Beach took steps a few years ago to tone it down – including a controversial helmet law that was eventually struck down by the S.C. Supreme Court.

“We are not trying to take anything away from the Grand Strand,” said Sonny Copeland of Sonny Productions, which is organizing the Florence event and owns that still promotes the rally.

Copeland envisions the family-friendly event in Florence - which officials estimate will lure some bikers headed down Interstate 95 to the rally the following week in Daytona Beach, Fla. - will include vendors, a used parts corral, displays, seminars and concerts. He’s still working to arrange the details, but said that Florence officials have made it easier than Myrtle Beach and Horry County leaders have in recent years with their stricter rules.

The event will include “a lot of stuff we can’t do at the beach. You can’t do anything at the beach anymore. Florence has been overwhelmingly welcoming,” Copeland said.

The expo will consume the 50,000 square feet inside the Florence center, as well as space outside the center. This is the first bike expo of this kind to take place at the civic center, but officials there said they are excited about the event and the potential economic surge it could create for area hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

It isn’t expected to create the noise or other issues that prompted Myrtle Beach leaders to push the annual Harley rally outside its city limits because there aren’t many houses near the Florence Civic Center where residents might be bothered, said Jane Austin, the center’s sales and marketing coordinator.

“We think it is going to be great, especially beneficial to everybody around here,” she said. “We are hoping that it will be a big success.”

But Copeland is sticking with a Myrtle Beach name for the Florence event, aiming to capitalize on the brand he’s built with his Myrtle Beach Bike Week effort, he said.

“People relate to Myrtle Beach Bike Week and what I’ve done there for decades,” Copeland said.

It’s unusual to use Myrtle Beach in the name of an event happening elsewhere and could lead to confusion, Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said.

“It is a little unusual in that it is 70 miles to our west in a different county,” he said. “I think it is an indication that the organizers of the massive motorcycle rallies realize that Myrtle Beach is no longer the destination for them.”

Copeland expects the Florence event to lure some of the bikers headed down Interstate 95 to the rally in Daytona Beach, which is set for March 9-18 - the week after the Florence event. Austin said there are a lot of bikers who live in the area who are also likely to attend.

The Florence event isn’t expected to have any affect on the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson Rally, which is set for May 11-20, officials said. Copeland still promotes that event as well.

The Florence expo likely will catch bikers headed to Dayonta, but won’t be taking bikers away from Myrtle Beach, said Denise Triece, marketing manager with Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson.

“That would not be a big concern at all,” she said. “I don’t think that will have any affect on us.”

Copeland, who said he is organizing four more bike expos but declined to say where, said Florence was an ideal spot for this event because the civic center is in a good location right off interstates 95 and 20 and there are enough hotels and restaurants in the area to support the expected crowd.

“Florence is fast becoming the gateway to the Grand Strand,” Copeland said. “Florence is going to have that niche.”