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RAGBRAI is a colorful event to say the least. It’s not just the jerseys, but the riders and teams that add color to the weeklong ride across Iowa.
Tens of thousands of riders and support crews create RAGBRAI, a weeklong rolling party across the state.
It started on Sunday, July 22, when riders dipped the back tires of their bikes in the Missouri River.
It ended Saturday, July 28, when they dipped their front tires in the Mississippi River in Davenport.
In between there was great frivolity.
The hundreds of miles of riding were fueled with pie, beer and lots of food sold by church groups and community organizations.
For the first time, the RAGBRAI circus came to Wellman, Kalona and Riverside.
Organizers had told the cities to expect up to 20,000 riders to invade their cities. Turns out there were between 27,000 and 30,000 who rode through on Friday, July 27, according to official estimates.
The northern Washington County cities experienced few problems, and all reported a fun-packed – and profitable – few hours when the hordes rode through town.
Wellman City Councilman Bob Goodrich said he recently spoke to a rider from Sigourney who had positive feedback about the city.
“He said it looked like Wellman put a lot of time and effort into it,” Goodrich said. “He said every conversation with other riders about favorite stops always turned back to Wellman.”
Councilman Mark Philpot, who co-chaired the city’s RAGBRAI committee, said he is working to generate a survey for vendors – both local and out-of-town – to get feedback on their experiences.
“We can use that feedback to make it an even better experience,” Philpot said.
Mayor Ryan Miller added that the feedback could also be used to improve other city events.
“It was great to see residents downtown to see what was going on,” Miller added.
Kalona Mayor Ken Herington said that the feedback he has received has been positive.
“I’ve heard zero negative feedback on RAGBRAI,” Herington said. “The committee did a great job, and it was planned very well.”
City Administrator Ryan Schlabaugh added, “RAGBRAI organizers have been nothing but complimentary.”
In regard to money, the city came out in the black as well.
“I know we came out on the positive end of things,” Schlabaugh said. “We’ll probably spend about $10,000 when all is said and done, and we’ve already taken in about $14,000.”
He said that the event was good for the vendors as well.
“The vendors as a whole did very well,” Schlabaugh said. “Many of them sold out or nearly sold out.”
He added that he heard that there have been recent tour groups visiting Kalona that were a “direct by-product of people coming through and wanting to come back.”
In Riverside, vendor sales during RAGBRAI fell short of expectations, according to organizer Kevin Meller.
At the same time, the Capt. Kirk statue and USS Riverside starship were both popular for photos, with RAGBRAI riders lined up throughout the day to pose for a shot in front of those Riverside icons.
Meller has scheduled a “lessons learned” session for Thursday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.
While vendors might not have fared well, the city came out ahead financially.
“We are considerably under budget, and we also brought more revenue into the city,” Meller said.
He said expenses were $8,500 under budget, and revenues, budgeted at $3,500, came in at $6,150, thanks to a $2,500 contribution from the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.
Meller suggested offering a $100 rebate to seven of the eight food vendors who fell short of their sales goals.
Unlike Wellman and Kalona, which funneled riders onto a main street lined with vendors, Riverside vendors were set up in Hall Park, with bike traffic passing by on River Road. Meller said it was hard to get riders into the park.
The first hundred feet of the park were packed with riders, but the crowds thinned farther into the park.
Councilperson Tom Sexton said cities that did well clogged their streets, forcing riders to get off their bikes.
“You get your traffic to flow right through your event,” Sexton said.
The idea of offering a rebate to vendors was questioned by the council. Jeanine Redlinger said the possibility of low sales is a risk that vendors assume.
Mayor Allen Schneider said he would talk with the city attorney to see if it was legal to even consider offering a rebate since the vendor fees were set by a city ordinance.
Overall, Meller was upbeat.
“I think we had a pretty successful day,” he said. “It came. It happened. It’s over. … We ran a good event.”