Thunder By The Bay Rides Away From Sarasota
Over the last 18 years, Thunder By The Bay has grown from a one day motorcycle ride to raise money for Suncoast Charities for Children to a 4 day event considered one of the top 50 motorcycle festivals in the United States. Yet although last year’s event brought approximately 90,000 people to downtown Sarasota and generated an $8.8 million economic impact, for its 19th year, the event has been ushered away from the downtown area. Though the thunder will still be coming, it will not be by the bay.
After last year’s event, a number of downtown residents and business owners raised concerns over the impact of the event on the downtown environment. For many, the event brought too much activity too soon after the New Years Eve celebration that takes place the week before. As many of the condominiums in the downtown area have been geared toward retirees, the argument was similar to that of the City of Sarasota’s sound ordinance, which now turns the volume down on downtown activities after 10pm. It was just too loud.
However, according to a survey of more than 100 businesses that were effected by the event by Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norm Gollub, 62% claimed to be negatively impacted. Given that 56% of the visitors were from outside Sarasota County, it is understandable that the number of furniture stores and real estate offices weren’t having record breaking sales. Additionally, although the Economic Impact Study of the event reported that the median household income of attendees was $107,700, a weekend of motorcycles and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t exactly lend itself to the celebration of the “Cultured, Cosmopolitan, Culinary” Sarasota that the Downtown Sarasota Alliance has been trying to cultivate.
When the City of Sarasota initially started looking for a way to restrict events that close down over 5 blocks (Thunder By The Bay being the only one), event organizers initially looked at moving the event a little further east on Main Street. Sensing continued reluctance, they then considered moving it to Payne Park. Ultimately, though the heart of the event will now be hosted by Lakewood Ranch, this year’s event will be held at a variety of locations.
Thursday offers a Sporting Clay Tournament at Lakewood Ranch’s Ancient Oak Club, and Friday has the “Born to be Wild” Kickoff Party at the Polo Grill, a “Welcome Thunder” event at The Coral House in South Sarasota, and a celebratory block party in Gulf Gate Village. On Saturday, the “Cruise for Cash” Charity Motorcycle Ride that started Thunder By The Bay will begin at Sarasota Ford and head to The Premiere Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, where the next 2 days will be filled with bike shows, vendors, live music, and food trucks.
Event coordinators say they chose the complex in Lakewood Ranch because they wanted some stability, and didn’t want to be moved again after establishing a home base. While we’re excited about the event, and the ability to raise awareness about motorcycle safety, we wonder if having the event in a soccer field will have the same allure as the sights, sounds, and city ambiance of Downtown Sarasota. Do you still plan to attend Thunder By The Bay in its new location from January 5-8, 2017, or will you wait for the possibility of it relocating again to Downtown Bradenton next year?