After approximately an hour of back and forth between supporters and opponents of the proposed Turlock Criterium bike through Downtown, Council decided to delay the vote another two weeks.
Mitch Boehs, who serves as the race’s director, has requested the City of Turlock close portions of W. Main Street, Market Street, S. Broadway, A Street, B Street, C Street, and S. First Street for a Turlock Criterium bicycle race on Aug. 8.
The race, which was originally scheduled to have roads closed from 1 to 10 p.m., would consist of around seven different races throughout the day, each one having racers making several laps through Downtown Turlock and lasting approximately 50 minutes in total length.
According to Boehs, the race, which would be free to watch for the public, would be bring anywhere from 300 to 500 racers, with hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators.
The applicant met with several City of Turlock staff members on April 28, who suggested alternate dates and times that could be less impactful to business than the busy Saturday, as well as alternate route suggestions that would benefit local businesses and residents. Despite the suggestions, the applicant maintained desire for the proposed route, date, and times.
Both the applicant and City of Turlock notified business owners who may be affected by the race, with all notices mailed to all properties located within 1,000 feet of the proposed route.
After notifying affected business owners, several Downtown businesses came forward in opposition of the race, asking the race be moved to a different date or location.
According to those businesses in opposition, Saturdays tend to be the busiest day of the week and the race could mean the loss of important customers and revenue.
“The day that they picked, the times that they picked are traditionally the busiest times for Downtown,” said Attorney Mike Warda, who was representing several Downtown businesses. “Most of the businesses do their best business on Saturday afternoons and a lot of the businesses that are the local places to hang out on Saturday nights, it’s their primetime. I would probably be able to put together numbers that would show that they would anticipate the loss of tens of thousands of dollars."
Boehs was very aware of the concerns of affected businesses and said it was not his intention to negatively affect profits.
“It’s not my goal to hurt any business,” said Boehs. “I just thought I could bring this event to Turlock that would benefit the city, showcase the Turlock downtown area, and also benefit the local cycling community."
To help accommodate businesses in opposition, Boehs proposed that he could begin the race a bit earlier in the day — causing closure to be from around noon to 9 or 9:30 p.m. However, he said the date of the race could not be changed.
Additionally, Boehs said that the criterium type of race would allow pedestrians to get safely in and out of parking lots, businesses, and even cross streets during the race.
“We want to have marshals with whistles at the major crossings and they’ll be directing pedestrian traffic across streets,” said Boehs. “…They’ll be there for public safety as well as the riders’ safety."
While there was some opposition from Downtown business owners, there was significant support for members of the public and business owners.
Titus Striplin, part owner of 10 East Kitchen & Tap House, is in full support of the race, even offering his parking lot to be used for any race needs.
“I know there are a few businesses that maybe feel this is a risk, but I think it’s a risk worth having for our families, for our kids, and I think it’ll be a terrific event,” said Striplin, adding that over 1,000 estimated people coming into Downtown would bring revenue for businesses and the City of Turlock.
In total, 24 Downtown businesses signed in support of the bike race, including five businesses that had previously signed a letter in opposition of the race — Memo’s Cocina & Tequila Bar, It’ll Grow Back Barbershop, Turlock Flower Shop, Camara’s Clothing, and Bella Forte Boutique.
According to Boehs, the businesses that changed their mind had been given false information on times of the closures and access.
Despite the large group of supporters that spoke at the Turlock City Council meeting, each explaining how successful these events are at bringing people and customers to a town, Council had its own concerns.
Councilmember Matthew Jacob was concerned with the possibility that businesses may file a complaint and seek to recover lost profits, such as what happened after the City of Modesto hosted the Grand Prix race last year. In that case, several businesses were compensated for losses by the City of Modesto.
In order to keep the City of Turlock safe from any lawsuits, City Attorney Phaedra Norton mentioned that Council could add some additional stipulation to an indemnity clause.
The additional stipulation would cause more financial burden and risk on the shoulders of Boehs, but Jacob believes it is a risk worth taking if Boehs believes the event will be successful.
“The businesses that are within this vicinity actually stand to benefit, based on the public comments that we’ve heard,” said Jacob. “So if you’re confident enough in the draw it’s going to bring and how it’s actually going to benefit the businesses, I would see that as a non-issue to go in and provide that extra liability."
However, such a request would set precedence for events that request to close Downtown traffic, including possibly the Turlock Certified Farmers Market, which closes a portion of E. Main Street every Saturday for a portion of the year.
“We are setting precedence here,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth. “I believe we have to discuss that as a council."
In order to allow time for Boehs to decide on the possibility of taking additional liability for businesses’ losses and let Council further exam the need for such liability to be taken for future events, the vote for road closures was delayed two weeks, until the June 23 Council meeting.
The vote delay came to the dismay of many, including Striplin who feels this race is a great opportunity that many other towns would be thrilled to get.
“I'm perplexed that small town politics would allow three business to stifle an event that will bring revenue, a sense of community and downtown marketing to our emerging business district,” said Striplin. “Most towns throughout California and beyond would gladly welcome the idea of an evening of professional bike racing to their business district. To ask a promoter of any event to cover hypothetical ‘business losses’ is to the definition, impossible. The core of downtown businesses strongly support the event.”