Tour of Lawrence’s downtown cycle race in jeopardy after businesses object to street closures

photo by: John Young

Cyclists competing in the men's pro race speed around a corner during the Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium Sunday, June 28, 2015.

Some businesses are objecting to the Tour of Lawrence cycling races returning to downtown, and as a result, the city might not allow the event’s finale to take place.

After a yearlong hiatus, a local cycling group is reviving the three-day tour and attempting to get a permit to hold the downtown criterium race that has traditionally been the tour’s final event. Downtown Lawrence Inc. is objecting to the level of street closures requested for the downtown race, and city administrators subsequently denied the tour’s street event permit earlier this month.

However, the ultimate decision on whether the race will go on lies with the Lawrence City Commission. Women’s Free State Racing, which is organizing the tour for the first time this year, is appealing the permit denial to the commission for reconsideration.

This year’s tour is scheduled for June 29 through July 1.

Race Director Cindy Bracker said she thinks the downtown race is a positive event for the city, and the downtown course is ideal for cyclists and spectators.

“I think having it in the downtown is really crucial to the success of the race,” Bracker said.

As in years past, the criterium race, which includes men’s and women’s professional, amateur and youth categories, would require that several downtown blocks be closed to traffic for much of the day July 1. The closures include one block of Vermont Street, three blocks of Massachusetts Street, two blocks of New Hampshire Street and a few cross streets. This is the first time the city has denied the downtown permit for Tour of Lawrence, which held its first race in 2009.

Past tours included street sprints downtown, but those were not planned for this year’s tour even before the permit denial, according to the tour’s website.

Downtown Lawrence Inc. Executive Director Sally Zogry said that although the event does bring people downtown, all street closures are generally bad for downtown businesses. Zogry said there are 65 downtown events annually that require street closures, and the tour’s request is also coming not long after the all-day closure of Massachusetts Street for the Final Four.

“There are more and more events, and at a certain point we need to give the business owners their voice,” Zogry said. “(A storefront is) not just a building, it’s families and employees, and there is a ripple effect to all of this.”

Street event permits require the permission of all adjacent property owners, according to the city’s website, City spokesman Porter Arneill said in an email to the Journal-World that the permit to close the streets was denied because the city and downtown merchants are concerned about the number and duration of downtown street closures and the related impact on vehicular traffic and parking.

Bracker said the tour will benefit the community. She said tour organizers are anticipating about 250 participants this year, and she hopes that number will increase in years to come. The city’s visitors bureau, eXplore Lawrence, used an economic event calculator to estimate the overall visitor spending for the tour. The estimate indicated that 250 participants would generate about $53,000 total of direct out-of-town visitor spending in areas such as lodging, retail and food and beverage sales.

Zogry said that street closures give the perception that downtown businesses are closed, and that some businesses reported significantly lower sales the last time the tour held its downtown race. There are about 200 downtown businesses, and Zogry said that about 30 responded to Downtown Lawrence Inc.’s voluntary economic impact survey sent out after the 2016 Tour of Lawrence. For those businesses that responded, she said the average decrease in sales was 30 percent.

Both Zogry and Bracker said they hope to be able to work out a compromise and see the event continue.

In its position statement regarding the street closure, Downtown Lawrence Inc. requested several changes. Those include a course that does not require a multiblock closure of Massachusetts Street; a condensed race schedule with earlier start and finish times; and a course that does not cut off access to parking garages and large surface lots and would allow at least some alleyways to remain open.

Bracker said race organizers looked at alternative routes in the downtown area, but those scenarios would push the race into neighborhoods, and they ultimately determined that the course used in years past is the best option. She said they were able to provide access to the New Hampshire Street parking garage and condense the race schedule so that the streets would only be closed from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Originally, she said, they requested the closure to last until 7 p.m.

The City Commission is expected to review the Tour of Lawrence street event permit at its meeting June 5.


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