Informational meeting held at town hall
Scott and Sylvia Cochran, promoters of the Smoky Mountain Rumble biker rally set to take place in downtown Franklin this August, visited Town Hall last Thursday, Feb. 23, to discuss their promotion of the event and what residents and local business leaders can expect when a barrage of motorcycles roll into town on August 17. “We’re here to put heads into beds and bring revenue to the Town of Franklin,” said Sylvia Cochran, before the pair opened the floor up for questions.
Last July, the Town of Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority unanimously approved to move forward with hosting a three-day motorcycle rally, giving promoters $14,800 of TDA funds to kick off the first ever motorcycle rally in Macon County.
Scott Cochran believes Franklin is well situated to host a great family friendly biker rally. “These mountains are a great place to ride, and I think anyone who rides would agree with that,” Cochran said. The promoters, publishers of “USRider News,” noted that there was a lot of enthusiasm for Franklin’s rally, especially since Cherokee’s motorcycle rally was cancelled last year when the Tribal Council refused to re-license the event. The Cochrans were quick to say that Franklin’s small town biker rally would in no way resemble Cherokee’s, a rally notoriously known for its eccentricity.
Cochran thinks, with good weather, that about 4,000 bikers will attend the Smoky Mountain Rumble. Questions concerning traffic were addressed early on in the meeting, and according to Cochran and town officials, Franklin’s Pumpkinfest attracts a lot of tourists and local residents too, and traffic and parking problems have not been an issue. Last October’s Pumpkinfest brought record-breaking crowds to the downtown area.
During the meet and greet, Linda Schlott – Franklin’s Main Street Director – told residents that she had personally made phone calls to the town manager and mayor of Helen, GA to determine their feelings on their local biker rally. The Cochrans have sponsored a motorcycle rally in Helen for 12 years. “They said they had no problems with you guys, and that they were very happy with their rally,” Schlott said. “So that eased my mind that we had done some of our homework,” she said.
Franklin Alderman Sissy Patillo chimed in as well, saying she had heard nothing but good things about Helen’s motorcycle rally. Patillo went on to say that the town should at least give the biker rally an opportunity to demonstrate what it can bring to Franklin, and later decide on whether to bring the rally back for a second time next summer. With the Scottish Folk Festival dormant for the time being, the Rumble could be a nice replacement, noted other rally advocates.
Town Alderman Bob Scott had several questions for the two promoters, disclosing the fact that he opposes the rally. “I don’t want to blindside you, but I’m totally against this,” said Scott. The alderman asked who was going to pay for the overtime for law enforcement officials, EMS crews, and event clean-up. “You’re gonna bring 4,000 people into a town of 3,000. Who’s going to handle this? The taxpayers?,” questioned Scott.
Cochran responded that policing and emergency concerns were probably overstated. While 4,000 bikers are estimated to attend the rally, they will not all be in downtown at once, according to Cochran. “You would have no more trouble from us than you would at your Pumpkin Festival or your Scottish Tartan Festival,” said Cochran. Cochran told Scott this would be a small town rally, and that motels and businesses would also benefit from the influx of bikers. “Once the day winds down, people are going to look for places to eat,” said Cochran. “They may eat lunch at one of our vendors, but after the day is winding down they are going to want to go somewhere and sit down and eat a nice meal,” Cochran said in an effort to show how local businesses will profit from the rally.
A 10’x10’ booth for vendors will be tagged at $75, in comparison to a fee of $50 for local businesses who wish to set up their own 10’x10’ booth. Scott Cochran said all vendors should make money, and once the day’s festivities come to a close, local restaurants will see a lot of business as well. “Local restaurants and other businesses are going to benefit from this,” he reiterated. Cochran doled out a sheet detailing the sponsorship opportunities associated with the rally, ranging from prices of $50 to $500. With a first-time rally, it is important to get the right amount of vendors, Cochran said. “If you have too many vendors, nobody makes any money,” he said.
Cochran also explained that the Smoky Mountain Rumble would not personify the stereotypical biker rally people are accustomed to seeing on cable shows. “This is going to be tame,” said Cochran. “This isn’t going to be the Sons of Anarchy,” he explained. He continued to tell business owners and citizens that most, if not all, of the bikers are recreational riders. “99.9 percent of these bikers will be recreational,” he said.
Schlott passed out a community marketing form before the meeting began, giving those in attendance some statistics on modern day motorcyclists. According to the town fact sheet, 65 percent of riders are married, and only 4 percent of riders are 24 or younger, statistics which seek to dispel any biker gang rumors that have risen in some conversations about the upcoming event.
Although the promoters have not approached the Town Board of Alderman about closing off traffic at Iotla / Phillips Street, the only street Cochran thinks needs to be closed down for traffic purposes, Cochran told residents that he would be approaching town officials very shortly on a number of issues.
Furthermore, the promoters would like to see a beer garden placed at the rally, but the promoters will have to get a permit to do so, Alderman Verlin Curtis was present at the meeting and informed the promoters of the process, and Cochran said they would do what is necessary to fully comply with local ordinances. They also informed residents that the rally would offer entertainment for children, to ensure a family oriented environment is upheld.
The marketers have a facebook page which lays out the details of the event, including the rally’s daily activities. Music will be offered for free at the town gazebo.
Alderman Scott still has questions about the biker rally, particularly how the event will be financed, but he was appreciative of the promoters at the forum. “I thought they were very candid and forthcoming with all of the information. They didn’t withhold anything and I appreciated that,” he said.
Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins attended the forum as well, asking the promoters about the coordination of events and if they were going to post an itinerary for people to view prior to the rally date. Cochran said there would be a listing of activities for residents and tourists to study before making plans. One flyer they handed out at the forum advertised live music, an outdoor beer garden, free motorcycle parking, guided motorcycle rides to the Dragon, Cherohala Skyway, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.