By STEVEN NALLEY
It is rarely practical to find the economic impact of any single event in Starkville’s sales tax and 2 percent tax revenues, and Sturgis’s motorcycle rally is no exception.
Before the 2011 rally was cancelled, the Sturgis South Bike Rally Board planned to move the rally from the August date it had in 2010 to an October date. Despite the rally’s cancellation, August and October 2011 both showed sales tax revenue gains around 7 percent. Restaurant tax revenue rose 22.19 percent in August and 6.56 percent in October. Jon Maynard, former president of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said he attributes these numbers to a strong football season, which masks economic losses from the rally.
“I will say the loss of any sort of festival that impacts tourism is a detriment to the area,” Maynard said. “We definitely miss it. We do anything we can to bring any sort of tourism into the area, and the rally certainly attracted tourism.”
Multiple Starkville business owners say they miss the revenues and relationships from Sturgis’s motorcycle rally, and they would like to see it return.
They may not need the rally, but they do want it.
Arma Ruth De La Cruz is marketing manager for Eat With Us, which owns Bulldog Deli, Sweet Peppers Deli, Harvey’s and Central Station Grill in Starkville and several restaurants throughout the Southeast. De La Cruz, the former Starkville tourism director, said she misses the unique sight of motorcycles lining Starkville businesses’ parking lots.
“Typically ... a motorcycle rally could be perceived as a type of event that brings in violence or rough types of people. That wasn’t the case with this rally as far as I saw,” De La Cruz said. “A lot of the people that attended the rally were professionals that had really great jobs and would spend money in the community.”
For instance, De La Cruz said certain bikers would visit Harvey’s during the rally every year, and the economic dollars participants brought to Eat With Us remained steady from year to year all the way to 2011. She said losing the rally did not greatly hurt Eat With Us, but the rally brought more to the community than just tourism dollars.
“It brought character to our community,” De La Cruz said. “It just makes our community more diverse, which makes us more attractive.”
Comfort Suites general manager Kelly Miller said her hotel received more guests when the rally first started than it did in the years leading up to its cancellation.
“Within the last four years, I’ve seen a decline in those weekends,” she said. “It used to be people would have to book a whole year in advance. Then we got to where if we did fill up, then it wouldn’t fill up until a week or two before the rally.”
Miller said she would still like to see the rally return.
“I think it was a huge economic impact for Starkville and for Sturgis,” she said. “I know, (for) a lot of local businesses in Starkville and especially in Sturgis, that’s the one time of year they can make decent money.”
Microtel general manager Alicia Toler said Microtel served as one of the rally’s sponsors for several years, hosting highway patrol officers, entertainers and several guests.
While Microtel gave the rally some free rooms as part of the sponsorship deal, Toler said it also made good money on guests who bought rooms.
“I had a full house Thursday through Sunday,” Toler said. “That was a great weekend here for Microtel, and it was a hurt on us last year.”
Toler said Microtel gets its fair share of guests through MSU football games.
“But it’s always nice to have four days sold out in a row, not counting the football,” Toler said.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the rally has attracted as many as 30,000 tourists, and Starkville, being Sturgis’s closest retail center, has always stood to benefit from the rally. He said he sincerely hopes there is a way for the rally to continue because it means much to the Starkville community.
“I have talked to (Sturgis Mayor Walter Turner) and told him that I would be willing to try to offer any sort of assistance that might aid the rally, and ultimately I don’t know exactly what we might be able to do to offer assistance because it does pose a challenge that the event itself occurs outside the city of Starkville,” Wiseman said. “However, I’m certainly willing to sit down and try to figure out a way how we might be able to pitch in and lend a helping hand. It’s difficult to say when we don’t know what the requested assistance would be. Again, I think we owe it to ourselves, owe it to the city, to consider any possible scenario ... to help keep the rally from dying.”