A longtime motorcycle festival and fundraiser in downtown Sarasota will thunder its way to Lakewood Ranch in January.
Board members of Suncoast Charities for Children, organizer of Thunder by the Bay, voted Sept. 19 to move the bulk its four-day motorcycle event fundraiser to Lakewood Ranch and out of its longtime home in downtown Sarasota, a venue that has come under scrutiny by Sarasota city officials over the last few years.
“The event is going on 19 years with a proven track record,” festival director Lucy Nicandri said. “We need to find a location we can continue to build and grow. That was one of the keys. We need to think first about the charity, because that’s why the festival exists. How can we raise the most revenues?”
The festival has been held in Sarasota since its inception in 1999, although it started a year earlier as a poker run ride from downtown to the Sarasota Polo Club. It has been a three day event, with a two-day motorcycle and concert festival since 2005. Thunder by the Bay made changes to its vendor setup, moving vendors off Main Street and onto Gulfstream Avenue, in Sarasota, in 2012. But businesses and residents impacted by the event have continued to complain, prompting city commissioners and Thunder by the Bay officials to discuss alternative locations and festival configurations. None were ideal for the charity, Nicandri said.
“I think it’s going to be a win win all the way around,” Nicandri said of the move to Lakewood Ranch. “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. This afforded us the opportunity to change things up. We can accommodate more vendors. We can upgrade the musical acts.”
The four-day event will start with a sporting clays tournament at Ancient Oaks Gun Club, in Lakewood Ranch Jan. 5 (previously at Knights Trail Range), and a “Cruisers and Customs” block party in Gulf Gate Village, in Sarasota, Jan. 6. It features live music and a “Light Up the Night” Bike Show.
The major two-day “Riding & Rockin” festival, with more than 100 vendors, live concerts, bike shows and more, will be held Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, at Premier Sports Campus, which has hosted events such as the Winterfest music festival and international sporting tournaments.
“We are very excited to welcome this festival to Lakewood Ranch community, which will allow it to expand and grow,” said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder Manatee Ranch.
SMR owns Premier Sports Campus and the Ancient Oak Gun Club.
SMR officials said the event will translate into more traffic for businesses and new entertainment options for Lakewood Ranch residents.
Last year’s event — the largest yet — generated 8,400 hotel night stays and an estimated economic impact of $8.8. million.
East County business owners say they are excited about the festival, which will bring visitors to the area, while also providing entertainment for Lakewood Ranch area residents.
“Obviously, it’s a great thing for us, and I’m sure we’re going to see an influx of business,” said Darrin Simone, owner of The Ranch Grill, adding it will be an event for East County residents to enjoy, as well. “If you’ve been to Thunder by the Bay, you know it’s not like Daytona, where you have the Hell’s Angels. It’s more the locals showing off their motorcycles.”
Tom Yorke, a Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club resident and manager of the 79-room Country Inn & Suites hotel on State Road 70, agreed.
“Thunder by the Bay is a great organization,” he said. “I think it’s a great venue. Premier Sports Campus is so big and they do so many events there. I don’t think (noise) will be much of an issue. I don’t see people with concerns with the big events out there.”
Dan Sidler, communications and marketing manager for the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, said the move of the event not only benefits the community, but also speaks to Lakewood Ranch’s evolution, overall.
“It’s clear they’re staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, shopping at our businesses. That’s going to be good for everybody,” he said. “But more than that, I think it speaks to our community as a destination.”