Bikefest returns to its roots

January 12, 2007 

After firing its festival manager earlier this week, Atlantic Beach decided Thursday to begin forming a resident committee to handle planning for this year's Bikefest motorcycle event.

Town officials agreed to begin approaching residents who have volunteered for the Bikefest board previously, but Town Council was split over whether to pay committee members.

A resident committee has handled the May Bikefest planning for nearly three decades, and Town Council's decision to reform the group could be a return to tradition after a troublesome year.

The town put the 2006 festival in the hands of a Columbia lobbyist, who came up $89,000 short on proceeds, according to public documents and interviews.

Joe Grant, the only member of the nonprofit Entertainment Consortium, was terminated as Bikefest manager Monday. Money that Grant said was promised by sponsors of the event never materialized, and entrance fee revenue fell far below expectations.

Still, Grant requested funding from local governments for the 2007 event and asked to remain as manager, saying he could do a better job.

"We are leaning toward getting back to what the citizens are more comfortable with," Councilwoman Retha Pierce said.

Atlantic Beach resident Michael Gore said he was opposed to how the festival was operated last year and that the town should eliminate entrance fees. The town should not be fenced off from the public but instead run as an open event, as it has been for most of its 27-year history, Gore said.

"This year I want to get back to the old format," he said.

The council was more split over whether to pay committee members who will be in charge of planning the town's biggest annual tourism event.

It decided to have the town manager prepare a budget for the committee, which could be complete by the next meeting on Jan. 19.

Councilwoman Sherry Suttles asked that the town put away up to $10,000 as a stipend for the Bikefest committee.

"I know who those people are who make this Bikefest operate on autopilot," she said.

Councilman Jake Evans said the committee is voluntary and may not require money.

"I have never heard any of them complain about not being paid or say they want money," he said.

Past troubles for Bikefest

Last year, Atlantic Beach decided to hire a manager for its biggest annual tourism event and charge the thousands of bikers who typically descend on the beachfront town a $10 entrance fee. The changes did not net nearly as much money as was expected, and Bikefest ended up $89,000 in the hole, according to the event manager, a Columbia lobbyist who was fired this week. Now, the Atlantic Beach Town Council is considering a return to its tradition of an open, free event run by a resident committee.

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