COTTONWOOD – After a Thunder Valley Rally presentation illustrating the financial statistics of the event given by Hezekiah Allen, the floor opened to the public during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The controversial event sparked lively and lengthy discussion among attendees and councilmembers in the packed room.
Trevor Gottschalk, owner of Old Town Frame Company, presented a powerful letter opposing the location of the rally before the Council.
The intent of the letter was to inform the Council and the public of his position - and the position of many other Old Town merchants – on Thunder Valley Rally.
The letter stated that the event negatively impacts the group’s businesses, and said that holding the event in Old Town was not a good fit. The letter requested that there be discussion about moving the location of Thunder Valley Rally.
“The bottom line is Old Town is not just an event venue. It is a business district full of excited entrepreneurs and business owners who work hard to make Cottonwood a great place to visit as well as a great place to live and this event hinders our ability to do so. Despite the ‘renaissance’ that Old Town is experiencing, owning a business here, like anywhere, is still a risky proposition and the last thing we need from the City is something that reduces our opportunity to succeed. Please move the event to another location so we can continue to effectively run our businesses,” stated the conclusion of the letter.
It was signed by Old Town Frame Company, Bootleggers, All Things Creative, Jim and Ellen’s Rock Shop, Cartwheels Gallery, Magenta, Verde Valley Olive Oil Traders, Hart of Arizona Gallery, Old Town Flower Shoppe, Dragonfly Gallery, Hippie Emporium, Adriana’s Mexican Food, Crema Craft Kitchen, Cottonwood Hotel, Arizona Stronghold, Old Town Café, Betty’s Attic, Tavern Grille, Tavern Hotel, Old Town Pepper Company, Chef Wayne’s Creations, Barter Inn, Little Moo’s Gourmet Market, Iron Horse Inn, Pillsbury Wine Company, Red Rooster Café, Red Geranium Boutique, Bocce, Desert Diamond Distillery, Fire Mountain Wines, Nic’s, Paradise Point, Pawz on Main, The Most Interesting Store in the World, Papillon Antiques, Son Silver West, RIOT, Studio Z, Ledbetter Law Firm, Spirit Rising Yoga, Small Batch Wine and Spirits, and Fentek Industries.
Councilmember Ruben Jauregui asked for and received copies of the letter, and said there needs to be a conversation about this.
Allen said that the staff learns every year on how they can help work with different businesses.
“Sometimes it seems to me like Old Town merchants don’t want any activities. So do you want us to just cancel everything? Just not do anything to bring people to the community?” asked Mayor Diane Joens.
Her questions roused some in the room.
“That is a completely unfair statement,” said Mike Anderson of Bootlegger’s Saloon and president of the Cottonwood Old Town Association, as he walked to the podium.
“Well, I’m just expressing what I hear,” said Mayor Joens. “Meeting after meeting, the activities are not welcome by the Old Town businesses. So, why are we even doing them? Should we stop?” asked Mayor Joens.
“What activities are you referring to?” asked Anderson.
“Tilted Earth, anything that we do down here. I’m not sure that anybody likes Walkin on Main either,” said Mayor Joens.
“I don’t ever hear anything good from you all. I’m positive about the activities that we are expending time with our staff and we’re trying to work hard to bring people to the area. What do you want from us?” asked Mayor Joens.
He explained that he felt the merchants are being ignored.
“It’s not that we don’t welcome the events, it’s just we don’t welcome this particular event being right in the heart of Old Town,” said Anderson.
Mayor Joens asked, “all the people who signed this, do you want the city to just stop having events?”
The part of the room chimed “no.”
It’s not a good fit for Old Town, said Anderson. “We’re not saying cancel events.”
Joens asked what if the event was relocated but wasn’t successful.
Further discussion was sparked, and there was criticism of Gottschalk for not asking every single merchant in Old Town about the letter. Gottschalk explained “if people felt left out, it’s because I knew where they stood.”
Economic Developer Casey Rooney spoke as well, holding up a list of 105 businesses who employ approximately 500 people.
“Ask all 105 people, don’t ask 25 people. That’s my suggestion. I’ve got the list, and I’m happy to share it with whoever wants it,” said Rooney.
Mitch Levy, owner of Burning Tree Cellars, said that most of the merchants listed in the letter just want the event to be tweaked, not be done away with.
Eric Jurisin, owner of Tavern Hotel, Tavern Grille, Crema Craft Kitchen, Nic’s, and Bocce in Old Town, spoke next. He said he tried to stay on the fence.
“I don’t want to talk against the event. All we’re asking is to move it,” he said.
Allen said staff will look into it. But said if an event like this is moved; it’s a risk.
The hour-long discussion prompted council to have a special meeting at the Parks and Recreation Center to talk about the concerns addressed by the people of the letter. The date of the meeting has not yet been set.
Overall, merchants in favor of the event argued that Thunder Valley Rally bikers come back to the area - in cars - to buy goods in Old Town, which pays off in the long run.
Merchants in opposition say that reduced sales during the weekend cannot be made up, even with extended store hours to make up the difference. They would prefer that regular customers have access to their favorite Old Town stores during the weekend of the rally.