MUSKEGON, Mich. -- The Bike Time motorcycle rally in downtown Muskegon is a popular, family friendly event every summer. Local businesses, especially along Western Avenue, look forward to the sea of visitors who spend money at the local hotels, bars and restaurants.
Organizers said last year's four-day event in mid-July pumped $30 million into the local economy. It attracted more than 100,000 people to the lake shore. Many of those visitors are bikers who show off their rides on what's known as "Steel Horse Alley." It's a bit like the big Sturgis and Daytona bike rallies, but in our own backyard.
"Part of the problem we discovered is that as downtown Muskegon continues to grow, there's less and less space available to do downtown Bike Time as we've done it only," Bike Time board member Tim Lipan said.
"That's a great thing for Muskegon. As downtown grows everybody benefits," Lipan added.
Lipan said the event has gotten so big, the board needed to find more room. They found space about 10 minutes away at the former site of the horse track in Fruitport at the junction of I-96 and US-31. The location will now serve as the hub for everything, from concerts to vendors and even motocross.
"One of the things we discovered is, people still like bike time, but there wasn't an impression that it was getting stale," Lipan explained.
He added, "They wanted to see more entertainment, more musical acts, more parts and accessories for bikes, more food options, more stunt shows and things like that."
The Bike Time board unveiled the plans last fall and showed the new venue in a rendering, calling the move an 'expansion'. Some downtown business owners who've enjoyed the extra traffic say the BikeTime board has met with them. However, they don't have a lot of confidence in the changes.
"We left the meeting a little surprised and weren't sure that 'expansion' was the most appropriate term," Ron Madison, owner of Racquets Downtown Grill said. Without the permits being requested to shut down Western Avenue for Steel Horse Alley, they don't see the Bike Time board embracing downtown like it used to.
"There just wasn't a lot of clarity," Madison said.
"One of the things we knew for sure is, most of the folks downtown do want that street closed. They want it one way. They want it for motorcycles only, and we concur as well," Lipan said of the meeting.
Madison said, "So many businesses down here have planned their summer and budget and schedule around this event that has brought so much to this community."
If Bike Time isn't willing to close the street for motorcycle parking, the business community might be. They're already talking about.
"I would only be concerned if we were not allowed to do the things down here that created the festive environment that people have come to enjoy," Madison said.
He said, "I think, if done the right way, that this event in Fruitport in cooperation with downtown will only be better for both of us."
Charging an entry fee will also be different. Organizers said the pricing isn't set in stone, but a weekend pass will cost about $40. The day pass rate has not been set yet.