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Grand Rapids officials discuss pros, cons, of week-long biker event

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Organizers of the proposed “River City Bike Week” expect the five-day event will attract between 50,000 and 60,000 people. But some worry the group is overestimating the economic benefits and underestimating the noise, traffic and potential crime they say is associated with biker clubs.

Kyle Davis is an avid Harley rider from the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming. He’s been missing the annual biker week in Sturgis, MI and would be thrilled to have something like that in Grand Rapids.

“It’s going to be noisy I can tell you that but for the most part, a lot of the Harley community around here gives back to the community a lot. I know my brother has muscular dystrophy and they do a big huge fundraiser every year. So they’re really misunderstood in my point of view.”

If the city allows the event, River City Bike Week organizer Tracy Holt says part of the proceeds would benefit the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation that helps give Grand Rapids students the tools they need to succeed. She says they'll have bike builders, vendors, stunts, races, and concerts by ZZ Top, the Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers.

Josh Mcvety lives and goes to school downtown. He says the noise would be “pretty irritating”, but that’s about it. He says that he could see how some more conservative people may feel threatened by so many bikers’ presence alone.

“I’m not necessarily afraid,” Mcvety chuckles, “Most of the Harley riders now are in their 60s so I don’t think they’re going to cause much damage or have excessive violence or drug use or anything like that.”

Mcvety says any large event downtown causes some problems and he doesn’t expect a week-long event for bikers would be much different.

Organizers say the event would funnel more than $20 million into Grand Rapids’ economy. But a brief to city commission (page 147) from the comptroller’s office says the estimated economic impact was “overstated as it is based on a methodologically flawed study.” The first reason cited was that the data was from 2007, before the recession.

City commissioners aren’t expected to make a decision until February 8th.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.