The coordinators of the annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event have strapped Maggie Valley leaders a seemingly impossible ultimatum that could leave the town in straits no matter what they decide.
Rally in the Valley coordinators asked the town to bar any other motorcycle festivals from coming to town the week before or after its September rally in hopes of ensuring a bigger draw for its own event. If the town didn’t comply, Rally in the Valley would be no more.
The town dutifully responded by asking Maggie’s other big motorcycle event of the fall, Thunder in the Smokies, traditionally held the weekend before Rally in the Valley, to move dates.
But, Rally in the Valley then upped its demand. If Maggie wants to keep the Rally in the Valley, it can be the only motorcycle festival held there during the entire fall.
“The Town of Maggie Valley has always welcomed The Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association and their customers to Maggie Valley,” said Sandy Owens, a spokeswoman for the association that puts on Rally in the Valley, in an email. “We are hoping that we can come to an agreement with the town that will allow us to move forward with future successful fall rallies.”
Owens declined to comment further.
And with that, the town found itself between a rock and a hard place: it will lose Rally in the Valley if town officials do not meet the terms, but it will lose Thunder in the Smokies if it does.
The town has a long standing agreement with the company that hosts Thunder in the Smokies, which puts on a May rally in addition to its one in September.
Handlebar Corral Production has run Thunder in the Smokies in Maggie for nine years, and has said it will stop holding both its fall and spring event if the town sides with Rally in the Valley.
Chris Anthony, owner of Handlebar Corral Production, said it would be “practical” to pull out of both commitments — its fall and spring Thunder in the Smokies events.
However, should Rally in the Valley leave Maggie, Thunder in the Smokies has indicated that it would like the rally’s spot on the third weekend in September.
Negotiations between Maggie Valley and the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association will not concluded “anytime soon,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone.
DeSimone said that the town has done its best to convince the Harley-Davidson Association to continue hosting its annual Rally in the Valley motorcycle event in Maggie. The town has offered to keep the 2012 event schedule status quo while proposing that the 2013 schedule could be negotiated.
“Balls in their court,” said DeSimone, who spoke at a public meeting on the issue last Wednesday.
The association is expected to make a decision in the next month, and it’s unclear whether it will choose to stop holding the motorcycle rally in Maggie if it doesn’t get exclusive booking or it will continue as it has for 12 years.
There is still a chance that the association will move forward with the event again this coming year, DeSimone said.
“It’s not a done deal yet,” he said.
Discussions at a recent public meeting lasted no more than 20 minutes and focused mostly on whether dates could be retroactively changed should the association pull its event from Maggie’s roster.
However, one resident spoke up about his concern about losing any motorcycle events.
“I want to impress upon you how much money the motorcycles bring to this battle,” said Maggie resident James Carver, who owns Maggie Valley Restaurant. “Save those motorcycles.”
Maggie Valley boosts four motorcycling events each year: Rally in the Valley in the fall, RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend in the summer and Thunder in the Smokies’ fall and spring events.
Each event brings a crowd into the valley — people who will spend their money at Maggie’s shops and sleep in its hotels. And, like many Western North Carolina towns, much of Maggie Valley’s income is based around tourism.
By hosting large-scale events at its fairgrounds, Maggie aims to attract more visitors and money to the town. The loss of one event such as Rally in the Valley would further wound Maggie’s already hurting economy.
“It (Rally in the Valley) brings a lot of business to the town,” said Audrey Hager, Maggie’s festival director. “Also, it’s a big fundraiser for the chamber so that hurts as well.”
The town is still trying to figure out how much impact each event has on the local economy.
The Harley-Davidson Association, which runs Rally in the Valley, has complained that attendance and revenues are down, Hager said. The association has lost “substantial money” during the last few years, she said.
“They cannot sustain the losses they’ve had the last three years,” Hager said.
Without competition from other motorcycle events, the rally would likely see a rise in attendees and profits.
As for Thunder in the Smokies, Anthony admitted that the money generated from running such an event is not always great but said a big factor in attendance is the weather.
“If the weather is good, our crowd is good,” Anthony said. “When I say good, not great.”
Anthony said he did not know how much the events impacted Maggie.
“We don’t really know what the total is that we’re bringing to Maggie Valley,” Anthony said.
Neither event organizer has disclosed their attendance numbers to the town. The numbers would help quantify each event’s impact on Maggie.
Motorcycle rallies are all the rage these days in Western North Carolina, and Franklin tourism leaders are busy finalizing plans to take their first bite out of that tempting economic pie.
“Rumble in the Smokies” is scheduled to take place for three days next August. This is Macon County’s initial foray into hosting a large-scale, officially sanctioned motorcycle rally.
Starting in January, the event’s promoter will be hyping the rally via booths setup at events such as the Great American Motorcycle Show in Norcross, Ga., and the International Motorcycle Show in Charlotte, plus handing out fliers at rallies later in the year in Daytona Beach, Fla., and in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Riders want to see the vendors, and what Franklin has to offer, and to get out and ride. What better place to lay your head down at night after riding than in Franklin?” said Sylvia Cochran, of USRiderNews, the Georgia-based promoter, when asked whether she was concerned that the WNC motorcycle-rally angle might be a tad oversaturated.
Listeners were left to extrapolate from this response that no, Cochran in fact doesn’t consider the market too crowded.
But such events have become increasingly commonplace in WNC over the past decade, perhaps nowhere as much as in Maggie Valley, boasting five major rallies every year. The rallies, along with Maggie’s proximity to the Parkway and a world renowned motorcycle museum, have cemented the town as a motorcycle haven, witnessed by the diners, bars and motels plastering their placards with motorcycle friendly messages.
“It is extremely important to Maggie Valley’s economy. I’d estimate it at well over 50 percent,” said Marion Hamel, director of the Haywood Hotel and Motel Authority.
Cherokee also has its share of rallies. The Survivors Motorcycle Rally was held there twice a year since the mid-1980s — until this year when Cherokee pulled the plug on the twice-a-year event.
And that vacancy in the regional rally calendar, according to Franklin tourism officials at a Tourism Development Authority workshop last weekend, is helping ensure the likely future success of their new rally.
But they might be counting Cherokee out of the mix a bit too soon.
Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, said that although Cherokee didn’t have the spring or fall rally in 2011, “it is something that is being looked at for 2012,” as well as other events.
“I don’t believe the market is oversaturated, but in order to have a strong rally there should be something that sets it apart from the others,” Pegg said. “WNC is an ideal setting for motorcycle enthusiasts and continues to be a strong market for regional tourism. With the natural beauty we enjoy, and an abundance of great riding roads, people are naturally drawn to the area. Our job as a region is to take good care of them while they are here.”
Maggie Valley business owner Robert Leatherwood believes another motorcycle rally will prove good news for all merchants in the region. He said it would help to further solidify the grip on this all-important motorcyclist-as-tourist niche.
Rallies such as the Rumble in the Smokies, are the best way to attract those particular dollars, he said.
“I’m glad that Franklin is doing one,” Leatherwood said. “We’d help if needed — it’ll be good for WNC, and it’ll do good for Franklin to have one over there.”
Leatherwood owns the new Stingrays bar, strategically positioned near Maggie Valley’s Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum. During rallies, he gets crowds of motorcyclists visiting his bar. His waitresses, dressed in bikinis, offer free bike washes, a popular draw indeed, Leatherwood said. And he opens the normally day-closed bar instead of just at night.
Franklin, long a popular byway for motorcyclists heading to Highlands, or via N.C. 28 to the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap in Graham County, wants to capture some of those pass-through dollars.
Next year in August, Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority will host a three-day motorcycle rally. It will take place along U.S. 441 north in a field usually reserved for one of the many gem and mineral shows Macon County is renowned for.
“I think it would be great,” said Doug Hastings, the owner of the Moka Latte Express on Highlands Road just outside of Franklin. “This is ideal motorcycle country. Anytime we can bring revenue into the area that is clean — and most bikers are clean — it’s good.”
Franklin joins a long list of towns trying to court the motorcycle dollar. Maggie Valley is already well-established as a biker-friendly town, with numerous motorcycle festivals every year and a renowned motorcycle museum. Cherokee has been successfully tapping the motorcycle market for years as well, along with the string of communities in closer proximity to the infamous Tail of the Dragon and Hellbender routes, each with dozens of twisty curves per mile.
Mike Grubermann, Franklin town planner who serves as a liaison to the TDA, said a topnotch, reputable promoter with considerable experience in organizing similar shows in Georgia has been hired. Plans call for the event initially to be financially subsidized by the tourism group, but to ultimately become self-sustaining.
Grubermann said a motorcycle rally fits well into Macon County’s push to capture more tourism-related dollars.
“The nature and background of motorcyclists have changed over the years — this is not a Hell’s Angels event,” he said.
Grubermann said most tourism-drawing events in Macon County attract about 3,000 people, and that the motorcycle rally is expected to start with 1,000 to 2,000 motorcyclists and build up to the 3,000 number.
“We have some wonderful motorcyclists come through,” said Patti Koch, who owns Peppermint Patti’s Ice Cream & Sweets with her husband, Eric, and supports the concept of a motorcycle rally in Franklin. “They’re all stopping in on their way to the Tail of the Dragon. This year, I’ve seen whole convoys of them.”
Not everybody is enthralled with the idea of bringing in motorcyclists for a rally, however. Alderman Bob Scott said the TDA needs to do more research on holding such a rally, including finding out how such events have gone in other towns. “How does this fit into Franklin’s reputation of being family friendly? I have serious reservations about this expenditure of tax funds.”
Minutes of the TDA meeting show that $14,800 was approved for marketing and promoting the event.
By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer
The roar of motorcycles is a familiar sound in the mountains of Western North Carolina. And for many business owners, it’s music to their ears.
Bikers mean warm bodies to occupy beds, eat in restaurants, and shop in stores. This means dollars for the local economy. So why aren’t counties doing more to advertise to this fast-growing segment of the population?
By Lee Shelton • Guest Columnist
There has been much discussion about attracting more motorcyclists and motorcycle rallies to the Maggie Valley area as part of the tourism efforts. I understand that the TDA recently committed funds to this endeavor. This comes against the backdrop of complaints by county residents about motorcycle rallies — primarily concerning the noise and congestion — and the rebuttal, by supporters, which are most often focused on asserting that “good people” ride motorcycles, and they raise money for charities.