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Thunder by the Bay returns to Sarasota from Lakewood Ranch

The motorcycle festival will be held at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds in 2018.

Thunder by the Bay's first appearance in Lakewood Ranch  in 2017 also will be its last.
Thunder by the Bay's first appearance in Lakewood Ranch in 2017 also will be its last.
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In January, Lucy Nicandri, the executive director of Suncoast Charities for Children, sent Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen an email asking if Lakewood Ranch could host the Thunder by the Bay motorcycle festival in the future.

Lakewood Ranch had stepped to the plate in 2017 to host the festival after Nicandri's organization had decided to part ways with Sarasota. 

"I think we have found a home," Nicandri said at the time of Lakewood Ranch.

On Aug. 24, Nicandri announced the 20th annual Thunder by the Bay would return to Sarasota.

One and done.

"This is just basically a business decision," Nicandri said Thursday.

Not only is the festival moving to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, but it also has moved from its traditional date in early January to Feb. 15-18. The festival will include the "Bikes on Main" block party in downtown Sarasota on Feb. 16.

Nicandri said one of the key factors was the pending sale of the Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, which SMR has offered to Manatee County. Premier hosted Thunder by the Bay in January.

Sarasota leaders also played a role in the location.

At a July meeting, City of Sarasota commissioner Hagen Brody and Vice Mayor Liz Alpert said they wanted the event moved back to downtown, where it was last held in 2016, before downtown merchants expressed in a survey that the festival hurt their business. 

“It is an event where friends and families can come out and enjoy each other’s company, while stimulating our local economy,” Brody said in the release from Suncoast Charities for Children after the location switch was announced. “I plan to work closely with Festival organizers to ensure its compatibility and future success in its return home to the City of Sarasota.”

On Thursday, Nicandri said Thunder's profit had dropped from $130,000 the previous year to $30,000 in 2017. It was affected by a new venue that was troubled by poor weather. Thunder by the Bay's planning committee had little time to plan for the change in location because the event didn't commit to Lakewood Ranch until late September of last year.

Nicandri in February said attendance was hurt because Thunder by the Bay is a destination event and people didn't have time to decide if they wanted to come.

"God bless Lakewood Ranch," Nicandri said of the area hosting the event on short notice.

Since the event was held outdoors at Premier, the committee had to absorb additional costs such as tent and fencing rentals along with light towers and generators. At the Sarasota County Fairgrounds, buildings will be available if the event is hit by rain.

The added fireworks event planned for Lakewood Ranch in 2018 will now take place at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Department estimated more than 25,000 people attended the 2017 event.

"The opportunity for growth in Lakewood Ranch is unbelievable," Nicandri said in February. "Now we have a fresh start, a good start. We have the opportunity to plan."

Nicandri said she has held conversations with SMR executives. "They realize we don't know what the future will be with the impending sale (of Premier)," Nicandri said. "And we lost $100,000 on the event (from the previous year's profits)."

She said the event's sponsors wanted a later date to capitalize on a date further removed from a holiday and with the likelihood of better weather. Also, she said the festival could include camping options at the fairgrounds for those who want to stay over. 

"This was nothing negative on Manatee County," Nicandri said. "I want to be very cautious. This was a business decision on how we can grow more.

"The Sarasota County Fairgrounds offers plenty of room for both indoor and outdoor activities and parking, RV and dry camping, and is centrally located to area hotels and attractions," Nicandri said in a release. "They have been a wonderful community partner hosting our festival in the past, and we look forward to working with them in celebration of our 20th Anniversary.”

Admission to the festival is free, but some events, like indoor concerts, may charge for admission. A full schedule will be released at a later date. 



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