The 2017 Thunder by the Bay motorcycle festival will be held a little further away from the body of water it’s named after.
On Monday, the Suncoast Charities for Children board of directors voted to relocate the bulk of the event from downtown Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch. The festival, scheduled for January 5-8, will primarily take place at the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.
Portions of the festival will be held in other parts of the region. A Friday night block party will relocate from Hillview Street to Gulf Gate Village, just south of Stickney Point Road. A sporting clay tournament will take place on Thursday, Jan. 5, at Ancient Oak Gun Club in Lakewood Ranch.
This year’s Thunder by the Bay drew negative feedback from downtown Sarasota residents and merchants. After officials started to discuss potential changes to the city’s special events regulations, festival organizers began searching for a new venue.
Although city staff and event organizers reached an agreement on the potential use of Payne Park as a new home for Thunder by the Bay, some neighboring residents voiced concerns about the impact of the festival. Those concerns — as well as questions about the future of the city’s event policies — contributed to the decision to relocate, according to Festival Director Lucy Nicandri.
“Thunder by the Bay, with an established history of 19 years — we don’t want to keep changing locations every year,” Nicandri said. “Right now, with the discussion that’s going on with city leaders about potential changes to the outdoor special events ordinance, there’s no guarantee. We need to look beyond 2017.”
The event isn’t cutting all ties to the city of Sarasota. A Saturday morning motorcycle ride will begin at Sarasota Ford and end at the Premier Sports Campus.
Although Thunder by the Bay won’t be quite as close to the bay in 2017, organizers are optimistic the move won’t negatively impact the festival, which drew about 90,000 attendees this year.
“I think it’s going to be a win-win all the way around,” Nicandri said. “For the charity and for me as the event organizer, if you provide the right environment for the attendees, they’re going to come back.”