Huge bike race expected to bypass Solvang

City says Amgen’s financial demands too steep for 2012
2011-10-20T00:30:00Z Huge bike race expected to bypass SolvangBy Dave Bemis/Associate Editor dbemis@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

City and tourism officials no longer expect America's largest professional cycling race to return to Solvang in 2012 because organizers of the Amgen Tour of California have not lowered their financial demands.

"At this point, it's a very low chance" that the race will return in 2012, City Manager Brad Vidro said, unless representatives of race promoter AEG Sports can't find another city that can afford to host the race's time-trial stage.

"They really don't have the capacity to reduce the (financial) requirements considerably," Vidro added.

"They're just struggling. Costs are high, and they're in it to make money."

On the other hand, all of Solvang's costs of hosting the race have been borne by the all-volunteer Local Organizing Committee, and the fundraising strain had become so great that the LOC urged the Solvang City Council not even to apply to host the race in 2012.

Michael Roth, AEG's vice president of communications, said this week that no decision had been made on Solvang's application or on the overall route of next year's race.

As for the timing of that announcement, "I would say in the upcoming month ... we're hopeful" of announcing something in the next 30 days, he said.

In May, Solvang hosted the Tour of California time trial for the fourth time in five years. The 15-mile race through the Santa Ynez Valley is one day's competition in the 800-mile, eight-stage race that has begun each year in Northern California and finished in the Los Angeles area.

"It looks like it cost us (the LOC) about $125,000" this year, Vidro said, and paying for hotel rooms for the riders and support personnel and other added costs for 2012 probably would have brought the total to about $150,000.

For the 2011 race, the LOC raised about $101,000 and paid the rest of the expenses with money that remained from prior years' fundraising. That left the LOC with about $10,000 in reserve.

Despite the LOC's recommendation, three members of the City Council asked Vidro and other officials in August to negotiate with AEG to see if it would reduce the city's costs of hosting the event, which has drawn thousands of tourists each year and resulted in worldwide television exposure for a city that depends on tourism as its primary industry.

However, AEG Sports is asking for more hotel rooms at a lower rate, more meals for staff, and more security in 2012, among other host-city requirements.

AEG offered to waive the requirement that Solvang's Local Organizing Committee pay to house the riders on the night of race day, but Vidro said that wasn't any real reduction.

"We did that (housing) the first year, but every year subsequently, they've just gone on to the next city" and used hotels there.

"My position remains the same," said Mayor Jim Richardson, one of the council members who encouraged further negotiations with AEG, "that I think they're asking for too much for what they're getting. I would rather pass next year if they can't make significant concessions."

Carol Petersen, one of the LOC's co-chairs who spearheaded the fundraising, has decided to step down, Vidro said.

The other co-chairman, Max Hanberg, said it was time for a break despite the economic value of the tourism that the race attracted.

"I think we need to take a year off and prepare for 2013," Hanberg said.

When the committee went to local businesses for donations, the perception was that "it was one business (AEG) asking another business to give them money," and that was an increasingly tough sell in a bad economy, Hanberg said. "The last two years have been just brutal on everybody."

Ken Harwood, economist for the Solvang Chamber of Commerce, said it's very difficult to quantify the race's sizable economic impact.

"It's not what they bring when the come," Harwood said. "The most valuable part is the one-, two- and three-year residual publicity around the world, and it is enormous, but it's extremely hard to measure."

Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she had not given up on getting the race back but was not optimistic for 2012.

"They weren't exactly leaping up and down to come back (and negotiate) with the money," she said. "They're probably just waiting to see if they can find somewhere else" that can put up all the money they're seeking.

"I'm the one who keeps saying (to AEG), ‘You're giving less and asking for more every year.' That's the wrong direction."

With eight stages in the race, most with a starting point in one city and finish line in another, "that's a lot of destinations to coordinate, so you have to have at least some ducks in a row (soon)," Farhad added.

Meanwhile, "we're not burning any bridges."

 

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