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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:49

Franklin has second thoughts about motorcycle rally venue

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A motorcycle rally initially planned to take over the streets of downtown Franklin in August has been given the boot, albeit a gentle one, and now will instead have to set up camp in a large field on the outskirts of town.

Fears that 4,000 bikers would cause too much disruption downtown prompted town leaders to nix Main Street as a venue for the rally. Although the rally was recruited by the town’s tourism authority in hopes of give downtown merchants an economic boost, the drawbacks — including a prolonged street closure of Main Street — ultimately seemed unworkable to the town board.

The new location in a field along Highlands Road will still bring business into downtown without the negative side effects, town leaders hope.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said. “We’re anxious to have the participants come to town, but obviously this is a new endeavor for us, and so we’ve settled on a location in town but not downtown. We’re starting out conservatively.”

Franklin’s motorcycle rally will rumble into town Aug. 17 through 19.

The rally hit a major roadblock in April 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 organizer, Scott Cochran of Georgia, had asked the town to shut down 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 in the throes of the rally if larger crowds dictated doing so.

Franklin has 3,600 residents — compared to an estimated 4,000 motorcycle riders that are expected to flood into town for the rally. Among the concerns: a bandstand would have been placed directly in front of a funeral home.

Though the town never officially said ‘no,’ leaders likewise never officially sanctioned the idea of having the rally downtown.

Cochran did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Summer Woodard, who serves as the town’s staff person to the Franklin Tourism Development Authority, which recruited the rally, said that after the downtown site was nixed the rally’s organizers eyed a large field on U.S. 441 used for large festivals, such as annual gem shows.

That didn’t work, either, because of scheduling conflicts, she said. But a site in a field on Highlands Road just inside the town’s limits has worked out. It will cost promoters a total of $1,500 to rent the site, money that Woodard said would come from the $15,000 already given to Cochran to promote the rally from the town’s tourism agency.

“No more money will be given,” Woodard said.

Alderman Bob Scott, a vocal critic of how the rally has been handled or not handled to date, still isn’t happy about what’s taking place even with the change in venue. He said he has lingering questions about safety, crowd control and health that aren’t being addressed.

“I still don’t believe there’s any planning,” he said. “But I’m beginning to believe I’m just beating a dead horse to death. Who knows, it may be the most successful thing there’s ever been in Franklin, but I have my doubts.”

Merchants in Franklin generally seem supportive of the rally, though they can be forgiven if there’s lingering confusion over where exactly the event will take place. Most were unclear exactly where the rally will now be held. Downtown merchants, once told of the Highlands Road location by a reporter, said they hope the motorcyclists still make it into their stores.

“It won’t be the same business that we might have had, but that’s alright,” said Betty Sapp of Rosebud Cottage on Main Street, which features items for the home. “They might still come downtown.”

Joan Robertson of Macon Furniture Mart on Main Street believes the rally will be good for Franklin.

“I think motorcyclists get a bad rap. I know some fine upstanding individuals who ride motorcycles,” she said. “I hope they come downtown and check us out.”

Robertson said she doesn’t expect to see a lot of furniture sold during a motorcycle rally, but she said that the exposure could help the town in the future.

“One day they might be back to Franklin to buy a cabin — then they’d know we have a furniture store,” Robertson said.

Michael Stewart of Jamison Jewelers doesn’t think the motorcycle rally will do that much for the pockets of merchants whether it’s held downtown or not.

“Typically when we have something downtown there’s not much business going on,” Stewart said. “They’re not here to shop. They are here to do whatever the festivities are.”

In contrast, Maryann Ingram, who does massages at A Rainbow of Healing Hands on Highlands Road directly across from where the rally will take place, sees plenty of potential clients out of all those motorcyclists.

“Hopefully it’ll bring me some business with them sitting on their butts for as long as they do,” she said. “I know a lot of people are afraid of them but it’s no big deal. Anything to bring people into town.”

Thomas Corbin of Mountain Top Coins on Highlands Road wasn’t as certain the rally would prove a good thing.

“Things can get out of hand,” Corbin said. “If they’ll come in and spend money in town and not destroy it I don’t have a problem with it. But you’re going to have more bikers than town residents.”

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