Fort Smith officials open to idea of large bike rally

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

A thousand motorcycles rumbling down Fort Smith’s Garrison Avenue and delivering millions of dollars in economic impact is not unreasonable, says one motorcycle enthusiast – and city officials say they are willing to foster such an event.

Dennis Snow has worked for several years to convince Fort Smith officials to support a large rally, and more than two years ago coordinated a meeting between officials with Bikes, Blues & BBQ (BBBQ), Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders and Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Snow is the owner and producer of Thunder TV, a Sunday morning show on Fox 24 about riding motorcycles in the region. Thunder TV also is the official TV show of Bikes, Blues & BBQ.

BBBQ is a motorcycle rally based in Fayetteville that just completed – held Sept. 18-21 – its 14th annual event. The event is nationally known, and draws more than 400,000 visitors to various cities in Benton, Washington and Carroll counties in Northwest Arkansas. Some of the visitors also stay at hotels in Van Buren, Fort Smith and other counties adjacent to Northwest Arkansas.

A 2005 study by the University of Arkansas’ Center for Business and Economic Research indicated that the 2004 event had an economic impact of between $34.725 million and $52.088 million.

“There is an obvious evidence of increases in taxes received by the city from hotels, motels, and restaurants during the period of the festival,” noted the study.

POSSIBLE BBBQ CONNECTION
Snow has support from Northwest Arkansas in his effort to piggyback off the BBBQ and develop a rally in Fort Smith.

Coleson Burns, assistant event director with BBBQ, was one of the event officials to visit with Mayor Sanders and Legris. A leadership change at BBBQ interrupted the process, but Burns said BBBQ officials “would be happy to talk about 2014” as soon as they get the 2013 event behind them.

“We looked at the (downtown Fort Smith) area. .. Everything is very nice. The facilities there are great. It’s just a matter of growth and marketing it the right way,” Burns told The City Wire.

Continuing, Burns said the expected growth of BBBQ will need to involve new partners.

“As it grows, as this event grows, we feel that it will have to expand, you know, geographically. I mean, we want to spread the wealth as much as we can within our capabilities,” Burns explained. “So, yes, should an opportunity arise, we are interested in expanding, both North and South.”

Burns said Fort Smith being 45 minutes away from Fayetteville is not a problem. The issue will be in organizing and managing an event.

“It’s not like I can just hire someone for a Fort Smith venue. There would an immense amount of coordination that would have to happen to make it the right fit for the right time,” Burns explained.

‘HAVE TO START NOW’
It’s the manpower support that Snow says he and others in Fort Smith can make happen. But Snow, who has been involved in various aspects of motorcycle rallies and events since 1977,  said city officials have to work close with he and others who know who to create a successful and “sustainable” event.

“We’re losing millions of dollars because we have the venues and the avenue and it’s just a great geographic location for an event like this. We can make this work here. ... We should have made it work here a long time ago,” Snow said.

When could the first event happen?

“We can do it next year, but we have to start now,” he said without hesitation.

Snow also said a rally coordinated with BBBQ could result in a standalone event unique to Fort Smith.

“That street (Garrison Avenue) is so perfect for a motorcycle rally. ... We hold something with that (Bikes, Blues & BBQ), and then it will springboard into a rally of our own in the Spring. I’m telling you man, we can do this. We can start our own rally here in downtown Fort Smith,” Snow said.

Legris said he has been in contact with BBBQ officials and hopes to meet with them “in the next couple of weeks.” Legris also said working with BBBQ could result in an event that is not just an extension of what happens in Fayetteville.

“Of course I would support this. ... Of course I would talk the thing up, because it can mean nothing but dollar signs for Fort Smith,” Legris said.

Mayor Sanders said Thursday that he might be willing to provide some money from his discretionary budget to get an event started.

“Absolutely. If it’s something of a significant size that would benefit the economy ... I would certainly consider it,” Sanders said.

STATE TOURISM PUSH
Legris also has another reason to be supportive of a motorcycle rally. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism is working to promote motorcycle tourism in Arkansas. Parks and Tourism employee Grady Spann toured Arkansas by motorcycle in the fall of 2012 to promote the “Let’s Ride” campaign.

In an Oct. 5 address to members of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Spann said the impact of motorcycle tourism is positive for events large and small. While everyone is aware of BBBQ, Spann said an August 2012 event – Mountains, Music and Motorcycles – in Mountain View, Ark., brought in an economic impact of $1.3 million in spite of its small-town venue.

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Part of what makes motorcycle tourism such a lucrative field for business owners is that the biker demographic has changed.

"The clientele we see today is different. From 1985 to 2003, the median age for bikers increased from 27 to 41. Bikers from ages 40 to 49 increased from 13% to 27%. Fifty-plus-year-olds, and I'm in that age group now, went from 8% to 25%. That's because bikers are getting older, I guess," Spann said.

As if on cue, more than 250 motorcyclists rumbled through Fort Smith on Wednesday (Sept. 25) and stayed overnight before traveling up to Eureka Springs. The group was part of an “Ozark Hellbender” tour on a a 1,340-mile loop on mostly two-lane roads through Arkansas and Missouri and other mid-American states. Fort Smith was the fifth of seven stops during the Sept. 22-27 trip for the Harley Owners Group. Other stops included Hot Springs and the tour ends in Cuba, Mo.

“We had 250+ riders through today from all over the country, France and England,” noted a statement sent Thursday from the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Most planned to spend the day today and they had to come by Miss Laura’s Visitors Center to get their travel books stamped this morning by ‘Miss Laura’ herself. We staffed up with 7 volunteers and opened the doors at 8:30. We had bikers waiting at 7:15 this morning. Not sure exactly how many stayed the night but I know the Marriott Courtyard was sold out last night. Today was a perfect example of how our River Valley area can play a major role in this type of tourism.”

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Comments

the noise of cash

you are right when you say the bike rally can causes a lot of noise because all those dollar bills and coins being spent at our local business outlets can create a whole lot of activity that makes a lots of noise. ding, ding, ding, sounds the cash registers so bring on the bikes, visitors, and dollars into our city so fort smith can finally become a destination city.

Fayetteville addressed the noise

they have ordinances about noise. and the people who don't want to even hear that take a nice weekend vacation to Tulsa or KC or Dallas. If it brings money and economy into the area, DO IT.

Age related hearing loss and senility

Noise? The old buggers running this town can't even hear anymore. That's still no excuse for not listening to the "people".

Westward Ho !......

How about a Westward Ho!, Run for the Border Bike Rally. Ride 'em in, move 'em out, RAW-RIDE !! Biker Stunt Rider shows, Bike-RodeoRoundups, Hawg-Tyin' events. Racing down Riverfront Drive out of town. Let's let loose a couple of times a year and cash-in.

Get your motor runin'

Looks like the 'loud pipes' contest may be a little too much right now. Not only would it be an economic boon, but it would be a different type of weekend. There are still 51 others for those of us who can't stand different in any way shape or form.

They tried this once before

They tried this once before several years ago and the police department pretty much brought that to an end by handing out ticket after ticket after ticket. Good luck getting this back ..!!!

Crawl to your bike and go West young man !!

Like the Pub crawl with the cops laying in wait as if it was open hunting season, the Bike events look like a "set-up". Fort Smith Public Safety is paramount. So perhaps there should be multiple routes into the city festivities and only one way out.....over the Garrison Avenue Bridge. Bikers could stop at the Gentlemen's club or the Roland Casino on the way home. The activity would be "regional" while the jurisdiction would be "out of town".

success

"if at first you don't succeed, then try again!" success is the art of learning from past mistakes and getting it right the next time. go for it! pssst, its been my experience that the police can have super human patience in destination communities.

Hold your horsepower all you HawgNuts

I propose a sales tax holiday when the bikers come to town replaced by an EZ Rider sales tax earmarker for anything but the General Fund. The Mayor and his gang are already wringing their hands about ringing cash registers. I can hear them salivating over the roaring engines. Let's think this one through. Don't want the good Hawg jockeys paying for the Pork. Bikers are the salt of the earth and would not want to rub salt in the wounds of the bleeding taxpayers.

Bikers

Since it seems a lot of bikers are commenting on this, there is something several of my cronies and I have been curious about for quite some time. To preface, I have a sister and brother in law who ride bikes with a group of folks. They are respectable people, who are now retired but worked for a living, own a home, and are in no way hoodlums. So why do the majority (including them) want look like gang members when they ride? I am talking about skull and crossbones clothing, logo similar to Hell's angel's, etc. As for the big bike event in Fort Smith, I think you should come up with something original. Take advantage of our "Old West" history. We don't have to copy what Northwest Arkansas is doing. Let's do something new and exciting that will bring in people and money, not the same thing NWA is doing.

ride into the old west

maybe a biker ride wild west style with a colt 45 strapped on their hips. marshal bass reeves may not approve of the six guns so it may be a good idea to leave the hardware at home. bikers love to dress in costume so a ride into the old west could be a thought with lots of chuck wagons to feed the hungry wranglers and maybe a good old fashion barn dance for entertainment. how about a shootout at the old courthouse with marshal bass reeves and belle star or maybe a mock trial with a mock hanging? any other ideas???

Biker themes

Hawg hangin'.....Biker Cavalry.....Riverside Drive Bike relay racing & drag racing.

I got it...

Ok here's the winning theme: Hookers & Hawgz. Primary focal point would be Miss Laura's C'mon guys, can't this town do something without forcing the Wild West down everyone's throats?

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize

You want to make sure people notice the far more daring and much more exciting you, especially if you just purchased a hawg. You do not acknowledge any motorcycles other than these while riding and then no more than an Oklahoma nod. Everything we do here does not have to tie into history but go for it if you have any better ideas.

Good idea

I like Good ol' boy's idea about the "Old West" theme. He has a point about not copying from the BBBQ in NWA. We need our own ideas. Also, in regard to his question about bikers, my bro-in-law rides and even tho' he is bald, he wears a do-rag! Why? Also, he had a really nice, short goatee and now he has grown it out just long enough to put a rubber band on it! Gross.

Lookin' for adventure

So he doesn't get his head sunburned plus it's really hard to make a cowboy hat stay on. The idea here is to draw in the crowd so is it about what we want or what they do? The highly coveted 'loud pipes' contest has been cut out up on Dixon street..just an idea since now it looks like noise has become less of a problem. What if WE would let them each ignite their afterburners for a few seconds!

ride hard

millions of weekend motorcycle riders are out there just looking for a place to go and gather. bankers, preachers, successful business owners, doctors, dentists, government employees, law enforcement people, and even grandma and grandpa. rock festivals, religious concerts, country music round ups, blues entertainment, jazz music, and other venues. the opportunities to bring people to your city are endless so get the ball rolling and bring fort smith and its peoples hospitality to the world with gusto. every person and business in the area can benefit and gain from this venture so don't allow the naysayers to ruin this golden opportunity for one of the most friendly cities in the southwest to shine! the welcome mat should have been put out years ago but its never to late to learn to dance!
millions of weekend motorcycle riders are out there just looking for a place to go and gather. bankers, preachers, successful business owners, doctors, dentists, government employees, law enforcement people, and even grandma and grandpa. rock festivals, religious concerts, country music round ups, blues entertainment, jazz music, and other venues. the opportunities to bring people to your city are endless so get the ball rolling and bring fort smith and its peoples hospitality to the world with gusto. every person and business in the area can benefit and gain from this venture so don't allow the naysayers to ruin this golden opportunity for one of the most ...>> Read the entire comment.

Dew Rag

Janey, I thought a dew rag was for sweat too. Bald men sweat but they just don't have a bad hair day (except for that rubberbanded goatee thing). Sunburn...that is another topic.

Sum it all up

First things first: The comments on this article pretty much sum up the mentality of the Fort Smith residents. NIMBY comes to mind (Not in My Back Yard). Now, with that said, can we not do absolutely ANYTHING in this place without mentioned "the history of Fort Smith"? There are two primary targets in the market of "The History of Fort Smith" - 1)Older citizens who live here now 2)Older citizens who lived here in the past. You may not like to hear it and accept it and I hate to have to be so blunt, but it's absolutely true. Other than that, nobody is going to make Fort Smith a destination to travel because of its whore house, hanging gallows and old creaky buildings. As far as the biker event goes, I hope it's done and done right. Unfortunately someone hit the target perfect when they mentioned the FS cops and their lack of desire to let people enjoy themselves. Obviously you can't let people who have been drinking drive rampantly down the street but when any event comes to town it's basically like fish in a barrel and a ticket-writing revenue boom where they ticket everyone for every little thing. Over-regulation is the theme of Fort Smith. Simply put, it drives people away and the copied event would fizzle. I want to be positive about Fort Smith, I really do. However, time and time again this region never fails to disappoint and has proven inadequate. The only people who don't seem to get it is the 50+ crowd. Unfortunately these are the people who also have the most influence in town and hold "leadership" positions.

Not All 50+ Sums It Up, But Still Good Comments.

Excellent comments, but don’t come down too hard on the whole 50+ crowd. Most of the 50+ age group feel the same as you. They see other nearby, comparable communities growing at double digit rates, while Fort Smith is stuck in the river. Most of these folks work hard to provide for their families, wanting the same opportunities for their kids and grand kids, but see these opportunities fading in Fort Smith. These people want a local economy based on a competitive market environment, hard work rather than some centralized, crony plan by a few, regardless of age.

Be careful what you wish for

OK then, 80 plus would be more accurate. With hardy farm and ranch stock inherent to our senior population blessed with their genetic and physical advantages comes a less than bright side.....lack of progress. Even this is not a fair statement. Maybe it is not about a general populace, but just a few stubborn cronies downtown.....Like Ray Baker reminded us. May he rest in peace.

pumpkin carve

heard on the radio this morning that jane (downtown development director) and claude legris (A/P director) were plugging a pumpkin carve in downtown fort smith but no mention of a future bikes, blues, and barbeque type event. really odd that these people did not throw that topic out for discussion and the radio interviewer never asked a single question about a possible huge income producer for fort smith like a BBB event that could draw hundreds of thousands of people to fort smith like it does in NW Arkansas. missed opportunity?

pumpkin patch

did hear claude and jane on the radio this morning talking about their big pumpkin carve event downtown. pumpkins are part of the gourd family and a great reminder that Halloween is right around the corner so maybe someone could start a plan next year for a bikes, burgers, beer, and costume event for our downtown. all the bikers and other spooks could come to fort smith in costume and have a great time. just a thought to prevent casper from becoming a permanent city resident.

Opportunity knocks, work together

Garrison Avenue would be a perfect venue for a bike rally so long as the bars and restaurants all work together in the coordination of events and retail establishments are willing put up with some inconveniences. The Riverfront Amphitheater, Second Street Live, Neumeier's would make great blues venues -- maybe coordinate timing with the Riverfront Blues Fest? Get the Rodeo-Fair Board on board with using the fairgrounds as they do in Fayetteville. Get the casinos in Roland and Pocola involved. Consult with the Fayetteville PD as to the best approach in balancing security and celebration. In other words, the facilities and infrastructure are there, just gotta get everyone on the same page and make it happen. Completely unrelated to BBBQ, the city could also do more to capitalize on Wakarusa as well, which is quickly becoming its own "very big deal". There is plenty of low-hanging fruit to bring people and money to town if people are imaginative, open-minded and willing to work together; therein lies the problem.

You're definitely right.

You're definitely right. Something I've always noticed is in other places, like NWA for example, people tend to have the creativity and drive to build these things on their own rather than wait for the city "leaders" to do something to create it. Why don't WE, as private parties, build it rather than expect out non-creative city government to do it? Then again, it goes back to the regulatory brick walls we talked about earlier. The city would probably tell the PD to make sure we're run out of town if we developed a privately run group to organize a bike rally, or anything else not "historic" in nature.

team effort

just a few more ideas for fort smith events that could promote your city are a airport fly in for private airplanes and pilots, art show festival, national bass fishing tournament, worlds best hamburger and super hot dog contest, antique car and hot rod show, biker accessory expo, national motorcycle cop meet, and the list goes on and on! "opportunity knocks, work together" hit the nail right on the head because it will happen with total community and city leader cooperation and its good for the economy of fort smith!

Rollin' on the River?

Time to name the upcoming rally! Lookin' for a job in the city... Not workin' for the man either night or day... Let's not kid ourselves..they'll come crawling out of the woodwork if this gets very serious.

Proposed Biker Event

I am a resident of Fort Smith and I attended the attempt of a H.O.G Rally several years ago in Fort Smith. I think they need more than cooperative officials to get the bikers back to town. The last attempt was a complete embarrassment. The parade is an anticipated event, the lanes were not closed off for the bikes during the parade, cars were driving along side the participants on Garrison. Fort Smith has a reputation of how their events are monitored and the last attempt at a biker event left a sour taste with many people.

Belated Epiphany

B4 we get a bike rally started, we need to fire each and everyone who has obstructed, neglected and avoided bringing such an event to Fort Smith. They should not get credit for finally "allowing" this to come to fruition. Much suffering could have been avoided had we brought biker rallies and other such events to the city. The idea is not original but the "good old boys"and their operatives originally stifled it. They all gotta get outta the way once and for all before they choke the last breath out of a gasping town.

epiphenomenalism

the past theory was that everything that happened in fort smith was a by-product of a city government action and while holding our breath waiting for city government to act, the city stood still while other communities urged the private sector to grow and prosper to create opportunity and jobs. agree that the people that "neglected and avoided bringing such an event to fort smith" should be held accountable for their failure to recognize the need for these job building economy boosting events. this great project was stifled and discouraged by these naysayers in the past and this project would be better served by moving forward without the gang of "operatives" that suffocated the original plan. go for it!
the past theory was that everything that happened in fort smith was a by-product of a city government action and while holding our breath waiting for city government to act, the city stood still while other communities urged the private sector to grow and prosper to create opportunity and jobs. agree that the people that "neglected and avoided bringing such an event to fort smith" should be held accountable for their failure to recognize the need for these job building economy boosting events. this great project was stifled and discouraged by these naysayers in the past and this project would be better served by moving forward without the gang of "operatives" that ...>> Read the entire comment.

Let's not re-invent the wheel

We've already got the Blues Festival. What if the city and the Blues society got together and expand the offerings?

How about something different?

Rather than mimic NWA, and almost every other bike rally in the US, how about something really different? This is a town with history, perhaps a rally more along the lines of https://www.gentlemansride.com/

History Hysteria

Every town has a history, not every tourist is interested in history. Ambience is important, every tourist appreciates the "curb appeal" of a town. Old Fort Smith looks sloppy compared to enough other towns. Every town hopes to enjoy a "trade surplus" compared to other towns. That implies mobile visiting spenders....You know, like people rolling into town? So, the more wheels rolling in, the more potential revenue spent here. More bikers = more wheels = more spent. More events, period = more money. BTW, ABF has a large footprint in our town. Has there ever been a "truck rodeo" or truck festival in Fort Smith? Various festivities celebrating the various industries in our town would fill the calendar of events. A baby festival (Nestle), a moonshine festival with old booze running cars (Hiram), a healthy citizens festival(Mercy, Sparks,Beverly,Cooper)Easter egghead parade (UAFS). Get creative already.This is a working town. The history is of "making things", manufacturing for export outta here bringing cash in. Perhaps if the people in charge at City Hall "got to work" on the business of profitable festivities more than "partying" at non-profit events, then we wouldn't need so much "charity". Get to work, you pencil pushers !! MCH, thanks for the tip. This link is yet more applicable to those who should be promoting this town. An application online is available for the "rocket scientists" in our city government. https://www.gentlemansride.com/about/host-a-ride Guess what !! There are probably hundreds of online applications for events to fill-out. City boys & girls, get off your butt and get to work.

Fort Smith Rally

Remember the first time went to Bike,Blue and BBQ. Barely 2600 bikers three years later 90000. Fort is missing a chance to make a lot of money. BFMC will be have their National meet in Fort Smith in May.wdme

Three Cheers Snowman

The Bikes, Blues, and Barbeque event in NW Arkansas brought an estimated 400,000 plus visitors to that area and hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into merchant cash registers during the event along with a huge flow of hotel taxes and other local tax collections. Every single person in Fort Smith should get behind you and put out the welcome mat for this wonderful chance for Fort Smith to rise and shine and show the world that the River Valley has much to offer visitors that come to our area. Three Cheers To You Snowman and thanks to The City Wire for getting this great news out to the public!

Say it again, Sam

B4 we get a bike rally started, we need to fire each and everyone who has obstructed, neglected and avoided bringing such an event to Fort Smith. They should not get credit for finally "allowing" this to come to fruition. Much suffering could have been avoided had we brought biker rallies and other such events to the city. The idea is not original but the "good old boys"and their operatives originally stifled it. They all gotta get outta the way once and for all before they choke the last breath out of a gasping town.