LACONIA — The growing public debate about the future of Motorcycle Week took a fresh twist this week when Mayor Ed Engler, speaking at the City Council meeting, scolded those — the state and the city as well as business and property owners — who treat the rally as a source of revenue or income without significantly investing to ensure its success.
The mayor made his remarks amid the shadow cast over the event by shrinking attendance and falling returns. This year The total average daily traffic volume counted at the 10 locations during the nine days of the rally was 117,208 vehicles compared to 156,894 in 2014, a decrease of 25 percent. Traffic volume declined by between 8 percent and 46 percent at all 10 locations. This year the city closed the books on Motorcycle Week with red ink as expenses rose 16 percent to $149,163 and revenues fell 10 percent to $146,851. This was the first loss posted since 2007 when the revenues collected and expenses incurred by the city were removed from the general fund budget and treated as a special revenue fund.
Meanwhile, the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association (LMWA), the organization that promotes the rally, has been riven by dissension. In the last year two charter members — Laconia Harley-Davidson and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway — along with the Weirs Action Committee left the association, leaving six members — the city of Laconia, town of Meredith, Naswa Resort, Faro Italian Grille, Half Moon Enterprises and Hot Leathers.
Noting the decision of the Keene City Council to abandon the Pumpkin Festival, which the city had hosted for 24 years, Engler said "their loss is our gain" then remarked "we don't want to look back and think we made the same mistake with Motorcycle Week. I hope we don't follow Keene's example."
Engler referred to the defections from LMWA, explaining that there were differences over how to market the event. "Okay," he remarked, "then find another way to support Motorcycle Week." He acknowledged that Laconia Harley-Davidson "invests substantially in promoting the rally," but said "they're one of the exceptions. What is unacceptable," he continued, "is to take money from Motorcycle Week and the people it draws and put nothing back into it. That's unacceptable!"
Later Engler said "I'm not giving anybody a pass. The city is as guilty as anybody. We're mad this year because we didn't make any money." Only three of the major landowners at The Weirs — Faro Italian Grille, Half Moon Enterprises and Naswa Resort — are dues paying members of the association and/or sponsors of the rally. Others may be Rally Patrons contributing just $200 a year. "They could become sponsors or find some way to contribute something significant financially." For example, the mayor said that the Weirs Action Committee, which reaps significant returns from a parking concession on city property during the rally, left the LMWA when the dues were increased from $2,000 to $5,000 a year to address a deficit.
Engler said that he had not considered reorganizing the promotion and management of Motorcycle Week while conceding that "more coordination by the city, state or whoever" would be helpful. He said that the city will continue to work through the LMWA, but suggested "it may be possible for different groups to work toward the same goal on parallel paths." He noted that in Sturgis, South Dakota, the city stages and manages the nation's largest rally, a model that was rejected in Laconia some years ago.
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