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City considers bringing Thunder by the Bay back

As the city once again adjusts its special events regulations, some commissioners want to explore the possibility of bringing the motorcycle festival back downtown.

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  • | 2:51 p.m. July 11, 2017
At least two city commissioners want to explore the possibility of bringing Thunder by the Bay back downtown.
At least two city commissioners want to explore the possibility of bringing Thunder by the Bay back downtown.
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After a protracted battle between merchants, residents, elected officials and event organizers saw Thunder by the Bay move from downtown Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch in 2016, could the motorcycle festival make its way back to the city?

On Monday, during a special budget meeting, two members of the City Commission expressed their desire to see Thunder by the Bay downtown again. Commissioners Hagen Brody and Liz Alpert have both said they believe the event is beneficial for the community.

The city never formally prohibited Thunder by the Bay from continuing to operate near the bayfront along Main Street. However, in a staff-conducted survey of downtown merchants affected by street closures during the weekend-long event, 62% of respondents said the festival hurt their business.

In the wake of that survey, event organizer Suncoast Charities for Children was unable to settle on a new location within the city. Despite the charity’s decision to leave downtown last year, City Manager Tom Barwin said staff would reach out to see if a workable arrangement could be reached.

“We can certainly assess the situation,” Barwin said.

Lucy Nicandri, executive director of Suncoast Charities, said the organization is “definitely” willing to consider a return to the city. She has not yet met with Brody or Alpert, but she hopes to discuss the topic with them before a Suncoast Charities board meeting in August.

“I was very pleased just to hear those comments they made,” Nicandri said.

The mentions of Thunder by the Bay came during a broader discussion about the city’s special events regulations. The board voted to continue providing in-kind services to 12 special events, including the downtown holiday parade and Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix block party.

In 2016-17, the cost of those in-kind services was just under $300,000.

The commission also discussed eliminating a moratorium on special events that close Main Street between Orange Avenue and Gulfstream Avenue. Commissioners said they did not feel prepared to address that issue at Monday’s meeting, but indicated they would like to revisit the topic in the future.

Budget notes

Working to close a $953,000 gap in staff’s original proposed general fund budget, the commission voted against raising the millage rate to increase incoming revenues.

Instead, the board’s preferred method for balancing the budget is reducing the amount of money set aside for a new economic development fund. Staff originally recommended dedicating $2.3 million in property tax revenue toward that fund, designed to replace the expired downtown Community Redevelopment Area as an investment tool.


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