Franklin’s planned motorcycle rally hit a major roadblock this week when town leaders balked at shutting down a portion of Main Street for up to four days at the height of the tourist season.
The rally had been lauded by town leaders and tourism players for its potential economic boost, but organizers of the rally now want a larger section of Main Street closed and for more days than initially thought. The rally is scheduled for Aug. 17 to 19.
Promoter Scott Cochran appeared at a town meeting this week and asked the town to shutdown Main Street from Riverview to Harrison Avenue from the night of Thursday, Aug. 16, through Sunday, Aug. 19. Plus he requested the option of shutting down even more of the main thoroughfare if larger crowds dictated doing so.
Cochran has estimated up to 4,000 bikers could take part in the Smoky Mountain Rumble. Franklin’s population is 3,600. As the situation stands now, a bandstand is intended to be the focal point for rally entertainment and good times: It would be placed directly in front of a funeral home, prompting an additional tide of unhappy concerns and questions from town leaders.
Members of Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority, where the idea for a rally germinated, have talked up the event as a means of attracting dollars and visitors into downtown Franklin. The town’s tourism board awarded the rally a grant of nearly $15,000 to help promote the rally.
Town aldermen appeared reluctant to shut down Main Street for such a long stretch, however.
Additionally, Alderman Billy Mashburn flatly told Cochran that the discretion to close or not close more of Main Street would not be left to them, either, if he has his druthers.
“And I’m not willing to shutdown Main Street for this many days,” he added for good measure.
Alderman Bob Scott, who has been a vocal critic of what he’s characterized as a lack of planning regarding such a large rally, also protested such an extended shutdown. He then questioned why, in his view, the promoters had been so slow to come before the town board.
“This is not in the best interest in Franklin,” Scott said of the shutdown and the rally in general. “Why are you just now coming before this town board, right now, when this has the potential of disrupting this town for three days?”
Cochran apologized, talked of the constraints of running a small business, then acknowledged that he and his wife should have been on the agenda in January or so.
Planning for the rally has been underway for at least six months on the part of Franklin’s tourism agency.
Scott also raised questions about safety at the rally and about overtime costs for extra officers to police the event. Alderman Ferrell Jamison pointed out that if Main Street and side streets are shutdown to accommodate the bikers then town police would be out in force.
“These are one way streets and the city police would have to route traffic around,” Jamison said. “You’d have to have (officers) at every traffic light — that would be a nightmare.”
Jamison said that he wanted to see maps and a plan in place to handle emergency calls in the town in the event the streets are closed as requested.
Franklin lawyer Russell Bowling, who was in the audience at the town board meeting, also protested such an extended closing during the regular workweek. His office is located in the area being targeted for the rally.
The placement of the bandstand in front of the funeral home particularly concerned Mayor Joe Collins. The placement is desirable, according to the organizers, because then bikers could drink alcoholic beverages from the across-the-street Motor Company Grill. Collins said the odds were high that a visitation or a funeral would be taking place at least on one of those evenings. He did not seem reassured by the promoters’ promises to turn off the music and shut down the party while that possible event unfolded.
Alderman Sissy Pattillo defended the rally plans. She urged the board “to work together” for the good of Franklin to make the event successful.
“We’ll never know until we go through this one time,” Pattillo said. “If we go through this one time and it doesn’t work, that’s it.”
Cochran was asked to return to the board again with more detailed plans. The promoter indicated he likely would scale down his request.
Scott publicly chastised his fellow town board members in an email sent following the meeting, basically saying he’d told them so — which, in fact, he had.
“For six or seven months I have been raising concerns about the biker rally and the operation of the Franklin TDA,” Scott wrote. “I have repeatedly brought these concerns to my fellow board members and the mayor and not a one of them has responded. Then, when it was obvious that the promoters of the Smoky Mountain Rumble and the TDA could not answer even basic questions about this rally … board members acted like they had never heard there might be problems.”