Motorcycle rallies rolling into Maggie jostle over weekend rights

Maggie Valley’s town board has decided not to play favorites when it comes to the growing number of motorcycle rallies revving up to claim a piece of the two-wheeled action at the town festival grounds.

Maggie Valley will be home to at least five motorcycle rallies this year — a crowded field that led two longtime rally organizer to seek a reprieve. Too many motorcycle rallies, particularly in close proximity to each other, hurt their ability to draw patrons. There simply aren’t enough bikers to support all the rallies, prompting organizers to ask the town for exclusive windows when no other rallies will be held.

But, the town board last week unanimously denied the request from Thunder in the Smokies for a four-week window of protection around its two annual motorcycle rallies put on by Handlebar Corral Productions.

“This is a complicated issue and having this protection window in here is not as cut and dry as some people would like to think it is,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone. “My opinion is that for 2012 we should not handle this issue on the fly.”

The town board agreed at its most recent meeting to maintain the status quo and revisit the issue of protection windows for events in 2013.

“We are trying to do what’s best for Maggie,” said Alderman Phil Aldridge. “We need a year to think about it; we need six months.”

In December, Chris Anthony, a promoter with the company, sent a letter to town leaders, asking “that there be a minimum of four consecutive weeks before and after of no other motorcycle related events.” For the past nine years, Handlebar Corral Production has put on Thunder in the Smokies at the festival grounds twice a year — one in the fall and in the spring.

It came after a similar request by Rally in the Valley, put on by the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association. Rally in the Valley gave Maggie leaders an ultimatum: either bar any other motorcycle festivals during the fall or the event would be no more. The town denied that request as well, and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers made good on their threat by pulling its event from Maggie Valley’s calendar.

Rather than tackle the problem this year when most plans have already been set, the town decided it would consider such requests for events in 2013.

The town eliminated most of the fees associated with using the festival grounds in the hopes that the prospect of a cheap-to-use venue would attract more events. And, for this reason, Alderman Saralyn Price said the town should not be beholden to each promoter’s requests.

“We are giving it away,” Price said. “We should not be letting people tell us how to run the festival grounds.”

Beginning with next year’s events, each request will be weighed on a case-by-case basis though the town does hope to pen a more formal application process for promoters who want to use the festival grounds.

“We are trying to rewrite the rules while the game is going on,” DeSimone said. He added that the town already tries to separate similar events to ensure that it gets the most out of each. If the town decided to schedule two motorcycle rallies on consecutive weekends, for instance, it would be unlikely to realize a large profit from either event.

Brenda O’Keefe, owner of Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie, said that the valley is not the only place running into these conundrums. While vacationing in Myrtle Beach, O’Keefe said she heard a news story state that town officials there considered cancelling all its rallies because of on-going problems with promoters.

“Everybody thinks all of this only happens in Maggie Valley,” she said.


More motorcycles

On the heels of its decision about Thunder in the Smokies, Maggie’s town board approved yet another motorcycle rally coming to town. Event organizer Charlie Cobble originally planned on doing a car show in May but told the town he wanted to rebrand it as the Maggie Valley Spring Bike Fest after research showed that a car event would not fair well.

“We did not do a lot of the leg work that we should have done,” Cobble admitted. “We did not want to spend the money and not bring the people.”

According to his research, only 15 percent of people surveyed said they would attend a car show. Cobble said he did not want to back out of his commitment to host an event and did not want to hold an unsuccessful one either. So, in the interest of making money for both himself and the town, Cobble requested the change.

Cobble said he has already spent about $7,400 and begun lining up vendors, sponsors and bands. And, luckily for Cobble, the town denied the Thunder in the Smokies request for exclusivity, which would have prevented him from hosting another motorcycle rally in May.

That same night, the Maggie Valley aldermen also added three additional events to its festival grounds calendar and lined up another event for 2013.

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