When Ray Price Capital City Bikefest returns Friday for its 10th year downtown, the motorcycle celebration will get a chilly reception from some residents and business owners who say the rumbling belongs elsewhere.
Hosted by the venerable Harley-Davidson dealership, the three-day festival fills Fayetteville Street from end to end with motorcycles, while stunt riders burn rubber on side streets.
Will Marks, however, is not a fan. He said he can hear the motorcycle engines from his condo on the 29th floor of the PNC Plaza building.
“The noise is excessive,” he said. “It’s pretty common for people along Fayetteville Street to leave town that weekend.”
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As downtown adds more residents, and festivals fill nearly every fall weekend, pressure is mounting to move Bikefest to another location.
“Its time has come and gone,” said downtown developer and restaurant owner Greg Hatem. “There’s a better place in Raleigh for it. I think it’s a great event; I just don’t think it belongs on Fayetteville Street.”
Festival organizers disagree, and they hope the growing event can stay downtown for years to come. Ray Price General Manager Mark Hendrix said riders love the “cool factor” of being in the city center, and the location brings in passers-by who might not otherwise seek out a motorcycle festival.
“The economic impact over the last 10 years has been tremendous,” Hendrix said, pointing to the projected attendance over the three days of 100,000 and visitor spending estimates of $5 million.
Ronnie Holsclaw, a longtime motorcyclist and retired Raleigh police officer, has attended every year. He said he always dines at The Oxford pub or The Big Easy on Fayetteville Street. “I like it being downtown, because I enjoy going to the restaurants,” he said.
Holsclaw said Bikefest is more “laid back” than biker events in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Nobody’s acting stupid,” he said. “It’s got a lot of family atmosphere to it.”
‘The first real festival’
Bikefest made its downtown debut in 2005 as crews were busy tearing out the failed Fayetteville Street Mall. The festival was a welcome addition to a mostly empty weekend event calendar: There was no Hopscotch, no SparkCon and no World of Bluegrass.
According to Hendrix, city leaders asked Ray Price to choose downtown; the racing legend’s previous shindigs had mostly been held at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre.
While a few people griped about street closures, hardly anyone lived downtown to file noise complaints. The PNC Plaza building where Marks is now rattled by the bikes was still just a vacant lot.
“We were the first real festival down there,” Hendrix said.
Ten years later, Fayetteville Street now is booked for every weekend in September, and the city has branded the entire month as the Raleigh M.A.I.N. event. The first three letters stand for music, art and innovation. The N – for noise – is a nod to Bikefest, although Hendrix argues the event offers plenty from the other three categories too.
By the time Bikefest rolls in this week, downtown residents have already heard the heavy metal sounds from Hopscotch’s outdoor stage. They’ve seen a circus-themed school bus spit fireballs outside their front door at SparkCon. And they’ll be gearing up for a bevy of banjos arriving for World of Bluegrass in a few more days.
“You might lose sleep for three or four nights in a row,” Marks said of Bikefest. “People here actually like events, but what they don’t like are events that are inappropriate for a residential area, things that create over-the-top noise that goes on well into the night.”
‘Locals stay away’
Not every festival has the same economic boost for downtown businesses. An event such as SparkCon or World of Bluegrass can increase restaurant sales by 30 percent to 40 percent, Hatem said. Bikefest, on the other hand, causes a drop of about 25 percent, he said.
“The folks that come in don’t generally support the local businesses – they’re just looking at bikes,” he said. “A lot of the locals stay away. People just don’t want to sit outside.”
Cheetie Kumar’s global cuisine restaurant, Garland, will be closed Friday and Saturday. “I know that we would lose so much money if we stayed open,” she said. “Last year ... we did literally 20 percent of our normal business during Bikefest. I think it’s just a little bit of a cultural mismatch.”
Some shops also suffered. Deco Raleigh owner Pam Blondin said sales were down more than 50 percent. “It was my worst weekend of the year,” she said. “I sent my staff home because people had wretched headaches” from the noise.
Downtown Raleigh Alliance President David Diaz says he has heard concerns from residents.
“We’ve received complaints from daytime, 9-to-5 office businesses as well,” because the festivities begin on Friday, he said.
Diaz said the city is reviewing all downtown events, but he’s hopeful the Bikefest gripes can be resolved without moving the festival. City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin has a similar view.
“We can’t forget that they were a part of the effort to revitalize downtown,” she said. “Our first step should be to work with them to reduce impacts and/or work with them on a new, mutually beneficial location for next year.”
Festival adds Expo
For the first time in its history, part of Bikefest will be indoors this year. Ray Price is adding a Motorsports Expo that will fill 100,000 square feet in the Raleigh Convention Center.
Hendrix said many elements of the expo will appeal to a wider audience: artistic and antique motorcycles that can’t be displayed outdoors, a chance to watch a bike get built from scratch in three days and a “Globe of Death” performance where riders do stunts in a spherical cage.
“We really want to make it special for its 10th year,” Hendrix said. “You can’t just add more tents” to Fayetteville Street.
Organizers hope critics of the event will give it a chance – and hopefully find something to appreciate, whether it’s carnival food or a performance by a Johnny Cash cover band. They stress that it’s not a stereotypical motorcycle gang scene (although a few Hell’s Angels have been spotted), with Bikers for Christ members mingling with folks who wouldn’t think of mounting a Harley.
“Whether you’re a rider or not, to see these things happen is just fun,” Hendrix said.