Franklin welcomes motorcycle masses to rendezvous on downtown streetsWritten by Quintin Ellison
To hear Franklin Alderman Bob Scott tell it, fellow town leaders and tourism experts haven’t begun to adequately plan for and consider what an influx of some 4,000 bikers could mean to a small town of 3,500 residents.
Franklin will hold its first-ever town sanctioned motorcycle rally Aug. 17-19. The town plans to block off streets downtown for motorcycle-specific vendors to set up, plus have live bands providing entertainment during the day on Franklin’s town square at the gazebo. Also on tap is a beer garden to help slake the thirst of motorcyclists.
To say this is new for Franklin, a fairly staid mountain community in most respects, is to indulge in understatement. But, hard economic times have communities such as this one willing to experiment in the name of attracting additional dollars from tourist billfolds.
That’s not enough reason, in Scott’s book at least, to ignore possible planning-preventable pitfalls.
“Every other festival we have ever had in here has come to and worked with the town board,” Scott said. “This outfit has never come to the town board, despite this having the probability of being the biggest impact event we’ve ever had here.”
USRider News out of Georgia will be putting on and orchestrating the rally. It received a $14,000 grant from the Franklin Tourism Development Authority to market the event, using proceeds from the town’s 3-percent tax on overnight lodging.
Scott Cochran, publisher of USRider News, said Tuesday that they hope to talk to the Franklin Board of Aldermen next month.
A done deal?
Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said he believes the town simply won’t know if the motorcycle rally was a good move until it has happened.
“I am certain the event is being tendered and proffered in good faith and in the belief that it would be beneficial,” said Collins, who is a veteran attorney in Macon County.
The mayor said the modern motorcycle rally tends to be “a different breed of animal” than they once were. Motorcyclists, he noted, “have gone from the have nots to the haves,” and have the money and means that go with professional lifestyles.
“We’re obviously going to try it, then we will be able to gauge its value much more after we have one,” Collins said.
Scott, like Collins, emphasized that he, too, believes rallies have come a long way from their once scruffy, rowdy and hard-partying days.
“I’ve had three motorcycles myself,” Scott said. “But, this is something more than just a family reunion. Where are we going to put 4,000 people for three days? My feeling is that a biker rally just isn’t in keeping with what Franklin is. But, it looks like it’s a done deal.”
Maggie Valley, king of motorcycle rallies in WNC with five on its calendar this year, has grappled at times with the onslaught of bikes on the town’s roads. But while Maggie Valley and Cherokee, too, have long hosted motorcycle rallies, they generally are held in fields and outdoor festival venues rather than directly in downtowns.
Cochran, the promoter, said he believes Franklin will be happy with the results of its first motorcycle rally.
“There are always going to be some concerns we won’t be able to address until the event happens,” Cochran said Tuesday. “It’s just going to take the rally happening to see what we are saying is true.”
Merchants seem to favor rally
An informal survey of merchants and business employees on Main Street seemed to mainly reveal curiosity about what this could mean for Franklin, with the hope that cash registers will be working overtime.
“We’ve never had a problem with those motorcyclists who come through Franklin,” said Linda McKay of N.C. Mountain Made. “Their wives always want to shop.”
McKay said that the downtown closing will take place from Macon County’s Courthouse to Harrison Avenue, which means downtown businesses won’t suffer. That area is fairly limited in nature, to funeral homes, a restaurant and a few other places.
“Bob (Scott) is the only one I’ve heard about who is against it,” McKay said. “But anytime you have anything going on downtown, it helps the merchants.”
Rennie Davant, who volunteers at the Macon County Art Association’s Uptown Gallery, agreed with McKay. A recent downtown festival, she said, “brought people in, and it was fun.”
Davant noted that it was about 2 p.m. on a Saturday and that this reporter was only the fifth person to cross the store’s threshold. A little more customer action, she said, would be nice. Davant had been whiling away time talking by phone with her sister.
“We’re all for it,” Tony Hernandez hollered out emphatically from his place in the kitchen of Life’s Bounty Gift Shop and Bakery/ Café. Hernandez added that by then the store planned to be serving food in a banquet room downstairs and hoped to be offering beer and wine by then, too.
Betty Sapp, who works two days each week at Rosebud Cottage on Main Street, was slightly more reserved than Hernandez.
“If the motorcyclists are well behaved, I have no objections because it will bring business into town,” Sapp said. “If it is an unruly crowd, next year will be a different thing. But, our economy needs a shot of help.”