Make Black Spring Break bigger and better, or don't do it at all

Black Spring Break visitors gather on the boardwalk along U.S. 90 in Biloxi on Friday, April 13, 2018.
Black Spring Break visitors gather on the boardwalk along U.S. 90 in Biloxi on Friday, April 13, 2018. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

The people of the Mississippi Coast have a decision to make.

Do we want to be the host of Black Spring Break? If the answer is yes, we have to start planning for next year and expand that planning to include the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Coast Coliseum board, the promoter of the events, elected officials, first responders and people who live on or near ground zero, the area between the Coast Coliseum and Edgewater Mall.

We have to be honest. What occurred last weekend wasn't a spring break in the traditional sense. It revolved around a hip-hop concert and other events. And it drew not just students, but adults. Lots of them.

Therein lies the problem.

When Cruisin' The Coast was in its infancy, there were growing pains. People complained about that traffic, which at times was at a standstill on U.S. 90. But the organizers worked with the Coast's leaders and eased the traffic headaches by spreading events up and down the Coast.

If we choose to host Black Spring Break, that has to happen for that event as well. We cannot lure tens of thousands of people to such a small area and not expect a traffic nightmare.

The Coliseum is not the only venue that offers entertainment. At Cruisin' there are entertainment options geared to the hot rod crowd up and down the Coast.

That is just one suggestion. We won't know what great ideas might come of a brainstorming session until we have one.

But we should not limit ourselves to thinking about ways to control traffic and the crowds in the Coliseum neighborhood. We've been there. Done that. And the result is an event that has disappointed visitors and residents alike.

Biloxi Police Chief John Miller's plan did keep the traffic moving better and it did keep visitors and residents safe. So we can build on that success.

But, there's another problem.

Consider Terreze Seiber of St. Louis and his first impression of the Coast.

"Everything just seemed on edge," he said. "We had bought some food at Raising Cane's on Saturday and we were standing in the mall parking lot eating and a mall security guard came up and told us we had to leave — and we had just bought some food, so we left. We came back to the mall on Sunday to go shopping and the same security guard pulled up and told us we had to leave — and we hadn't even gotten out of the car."

If most people, and officials and business owners want Black Spring Break to go elsewhere, then they should stand up and say so. And if they want it to stay, they should stand up and say that as well.

And if we decide that we will be a spring break destination, we expect visitors to extend the same respect to their hosts as they expect from us. Part of the unease described by Seiber and others was the result of disrespectful, obscene and illegal acts at past spring breaks.

We welcome any visitor, any time, as long as they behave respectfully. We do not condone nudity, violence, trespassing and destruction of property. We do condone, we encourage, having a good time.

This is the message we have to make clear if we invite the spring breakers back: You are welcome here on the Coast

It isn't fair to coax visitors here by advertising all the Coast has to offer then tell them some of those attractions are off limits after they get here. Other tourist destinations have shooed spring breakers away by limiting alcohol on their beaches. But that would have to apply to all spring breakers, not just black spring breakers.

It's decision time.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.