During April’s Town of Franklin Board of Aldermen meeting, town leaders raised concerns regarding the Smoky Mountain Rumble Rally which is set for August.
Last July, the Town of Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA) unanimously approved to move forward with hosting a threeday motorcycle rally, giving promoters $14,800 of TDA funds to kick off the first ever motorcycle rally in Macon County.
On Monday night, Scott and Sylvia Cochran, promoters of the event, went before the Aldermen with a request to close a portion of Main Street from Riverview to Harrison Avenue, which is similar to what is closed for PumpkinFest, beginning Thursday, August 16, at 10 p.m. until Sunday, August 19. Although the rally is expected to start around noon on Friday and end Sunday afternoon, Scott Cochran requested for the extra day to allow vendors enough time to set up booths for the weekend event.
The Aldermen were concerned over closing the street for that length of time, due to businesses such as banks and law offices who operate normal business hours on Friday and will not be benefiting from the rally.
Although Main Street Franklin closes down several times throughout the year for events such as Pumpkin- Fest, or last weekend's April Fools Trail Days, typically, street closings are only for one day, usually on Saturday.
Mayor Collins questioned the benefit of closing the streets for that amount time. According to the Mayor, the streets hadn't been closed to the extent being requested for the rally since the Shenandoah concert was held a few years ago, and he said that event caused the town several problems. “ What is in it for us? You want us to close down our town for three days, tell me, what is in it for us. I don't even know if it would be legal to close the streets for that long,” said Collins. “We would have to ask the Department of Transportation if that is even allowed.”
Cochran informed the board that in some instances, visiting tourists average pumping about $300 back into the local economy while visiting for the rally. Cochran told Collins this would be a small town rally, and that motels and businesses would also benefit from the influx of bikers. “That is what you get out of it,” said Cochran. “The bikers will be staying at your motels and eating at your restaurants.” According to Cochran, The Franklin Motel in downtown was already booked for the event, and now bikers are having to find additional accommodations since the motel is closed due to foreclosure.
Russell Bowling, who owns a law office on Main Street, informed Aldermen that he was not opposed to the rally and believed it would bring a lot of tourists to the area, but he was concerned about his office being blocked off on Friday. “How can you close US 441 on a Friday?” asked Bowling. “If it was a Saturday, I wouldn't see a problem with it, but I don't see how it could even be allowed to close that down during the week.”
According to Cochran, he is requesting that streets that run into Main Street like Iotla / Phillips Street be closed as a precautionary measure in case the event grows. “Right now we don’t have the vendors needed to fill those spaces, but the way these things usually work, is the closer it gets to the event, the more people decided to come, we would rather ask for too much now than to put Franklin in a bind the weekend of the event,” said Cochran.
The Smoky Mountain Rumble plans to feature live music throughout the weekend on a stage, which Cochran plans to set up on Harrison Avenue near Bryant-Grant Funeral Home. According to the event promoters, Harrison Avenue was selected to feature the stage because of the conveience to the Motor Company Grill, which serves alcohol. “The Motor Company Grill is looking to extend their alcohol distribution into the streets so bikers can enjoy an adult beverage and have a good time while listening to the music,” Cochran said.
Mayor Joe Collins asked Cochran if he had a plan on what to do in the event a funeral is planned the same time of the rally. “Now if I was a betting man, I’d bet that there is going to be something going on at that funeral home,” said Collins. “You don’t want to be put in a spot where you have to go quiet for two hours.”
Willing to work with Franklin officials to come up with the best, safest option to be mutually beneficial to both the event promoters and the town, Cochran assured the Aldermen that a new location for the stage could be designated somewhere that would be less disruptive of Friday businesses.
Alderman Bob Scott has consistently spoken out against the rally, and still has numerous concerns he believes needs to be addressed before moving forward with the rally.
Scott’s first concern was whether or not the event promoters had an incident action plan in place to handle any problems that may occur throughout the weekend. Cochran assured the board that he did not feel that an incident action plan was necessary. “In the 12 years I have put on the rally in Helen Ga., there has never been one incident,” said Cochran. “I am also pretty certain that there has not even been one D.U.I. In all the time we have done that rally.”
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 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 continued assure the board that most, if not all, of the bikers are recreational riders. “99.9 percent of these bikers will be recreational,” he said. “There are none of four or five “biggest bike clubs” in the area I really don't think that will be a problem.”
Scott asked Cochran if he was certain that none of the major motorcycle gangs or clubs had clubhouses in the area. “As a former police officer, I make it my job to keep an eye on this sort of thing and I promise that there are not any near Franklin.”
In February, Franklin’s Main Street Program Director Linda Schlott passed out a community marketing form during a meeting about the rally. Schlott's information sheet gave 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 sought to dispel any biker gang rumors that have risen in some conversations about the upcoming event.
Sylvia Cochran informed the board that she had been managing phone calls from potential visitors. “ A lot of the calls I have received are from people from places like Florida, Ohio, Indiana, and Maryland,” she said. “They are excited to be able to come to the rally to see Franklin because they know how beautiful it is here. One lady I talked to from Maryland said she was riding to Franklin with a group of 75 because they had not ever been to the area.”
Alderman Scott also asked Cochran who was going to pay for the overtime for officers needed to police the event and for trash pick-up after the fact. “You’re planning on brining 4,000 bikers to a town of 3,500 residents. Who is going to cover the cost of the overtime our police officers get while working that weekend,” asked Scott. “Who is going to clean up our streets on Sunday? The taxpayers?”
Cochran informed Scott that Franklin's rally will not call for any additional police officers downtown during the day time hours and that as promoters, they hire off duty officers to watch the vendor’s booths at night after the event concludes for the day. “We don't need officers in Helen, and this is no bigger than Helen,” said Cochran.
“This is not Helen, Ga.,” said Alderman Scott. “Helen is a town primarily designed for tourism, Franklin is not.”
Alderman Sissy Patillo informed fellow board members that she put in a call to Helen Ga. officials, and was informed that they hadn't ever had any problems with their biker rally and welcome it back each year because of the economic boost it brings to the area.
According to Patillo, the event needs to be held at least once to see if it will be of benefit to Franklin. “We will never know if it can help or hurt unless we do it one time,” she said. “If we don't try it, how will we ever know?”
Alderman Joyce Handley agrees with Patillo. “I would like to see it come to Franklin,” said Handley.
Board members Billy Mashburn and Verlin Curtis said they were not comfortable making a decision on street closings and dates until they got more information from DOT and sorted out legal issues around the closings and the event.
The Aldermen and the event promoters agreed to work together to find a plan that is mutually beneficial to the Town of Franklin and The Smoky Mountain Rumble Rally. Mayor Joe Collins concluded the discussion by stating the board was not shutting down the Cochrans’ request, but that some revisions needed to be made before a decision could occur.