December 6, 2007 in Business

Bert Caldwell; Bike rally organizer has done footwork

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

Harry Sladich loves to climb on his Italian motorcycle, an Aprilia Capanord, and hit the road. Wind in his hair. Grin on his face.

“That’s it for me,” says the president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“It” for Josh Bryan is a weeklong rumble of 50,000 motorcycles at the Spokane County Fairgrounds. The largest such rally in the Pacific Northwest, and the affirmation of a vision he has worked to fulfill 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for several years.

“The goal has always been a special event,” says Bryan, who is also the owner of National Custom Motorworks on East Trent Avenue.

Until last week, the venue for 100 Years of Motorcycles was Rosalia, Bryan’s hometown. But as Bryan’s dream grew from 10,000 riders to 20,000 over three years, the ride lost its romance for the rural community of 650 residents. Bryan’s child had outgrown the village.

Although he hints at some unhappiness with the way the Rosalia relationship played out, Bryan says he and his event are moving on.

Into the garage of Sladich, it turns out, who says he has coveted the event since he first heard Rosalia had captured it. But that was before Orange County Choppers left a slick of bad hype in the wake of its 2006 Spokane event. Sladich got burned like an ankle on a tailpipe.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he muses, before recounting the many ways he expects Bryan to do better, and verifiably so. In return for promotional support, Bryan has agreed that participants in the 2008 event, scheduled for July 25-27, will book all their rooms through the CVB, just as other organizations bringing events to Spokane do. With that information, Sladich and the CVB can substantiate the benefits their work produces for the community.

“He was very willing to put in the metrics,” says Sladich, who adds that he is willing to back Bryan in part because his event, though young, has already attracted substantial sponsor support. He says a promoter friend who was considering a similar event in the region told him Bryan had corralled the necessary vendors already.

And there were other communities ready to step up if Spokane did not.

Sladich says the CVB has no contract with Bryan, but the deal looks something like this: Bryan pays the fairgrounds rental fees, and the fairgrounds vendors provide all the food. Bryan keeps vendor and admission fees. He gets promotional support from the CVB, not a check.

“He really needs us,” Sladich says.

For its part, the CVB fills a blank on the event calendar. Sladich conservatively estimates the rally will generate $1 million in revenue for area hotels, restaurants and shops. He, Bryan and some hotels are already planning shuttles to the nearby malls. And a convenient shipping service to help get all the loot home that won’t fit into saddlebags.

Sladich concedes the fairgrounds has its shortcomings. After drooling over the custom-made bikes that will be paraded during 100 Years of Motorcycles, folks will want to ride. Havana, Trent and Sprague are nobody’s idea of the open road. He and Bryan are mapping routes that will get these easy riders easily out to the countryside, where they won’t be challenging family minivans for the turn lane into Costco.

And Sladich will have none of Bryan’s assertion when he first promoted the event in Rosalia that it would be “family friendly.”

“You are never going to hear those words out of my mouth,” he says.

Sladich never rode out to the Rosalia event, but heard good things about it from those who did, even if the community was not happy.

“You can’t help but get backlash when you weave an event into people’s front yards,” he says.

Bryan launched that event more or less single-handedly, and Sladich says help from the CVB should eliminate some of the hiccups that put off Rosalia. He’s already becoming something of a mentor, and Bryan is clearly relieved he has someone he can fall back on.

“I’m looking forward to bringing a bunch of people into town spending a lot of money,” he says.

With motorcycle rallies becoming white-collar, if not white-hair, events – even enter-tame-ment capital Branson, Mo., holds one – 100 Years of Motorcycles looks like a smooth ride. With Sladich and Bryson simpatico, it should not become 1,000 headaches instead.

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