FORT SMITH – A year of restrictions and canceled events during a global pandemic has contributed to record attendance at the Steel Horse Rally this year, the rally chairman said.
The seventh rally drew approximately 125,000 to 130,000 visitors to the city center from May 7 to 8. Dennis Snow, president of the rally, estimated the economic impact at $ 19.6 million. The 2020 rally has been canceled due to covid-19.
This year’s attendance was at least 25% higher than his next estimated attendance of 100,000 in 2018, Snow said.
“People had cabin fever, if you will. Everyone wanted to get out of the house after spending 12-14 months working from home and being told they couldn’t do this and that they couldn’t do that, ”he said. “When the mandates eased, everyone was ready to go back to some semblance of normalcy, and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.”
Snow said he and other organizers were worried about how the rally would go as they “had to do six months of work in six weeks” after the Covid-19 state’s restrictions eased. They didn’t know how many people would be in attendance, he said.
Motorcyclists came from about 30 states for the rally. Snow also said he spoke to visitors from New Zealand and Britain, who commented on “how welcome they felt” at Fort Smith.
Attendees attended events such as the Steel Horse Shootout in Pocola, Oklahoma, and the Thunder Through the Valley Motorcycle Parade, as well as new features such as the Cops and Cones Motorcycle Show, Sixth Street Stage and the possibility of drinking alcohol anywhere in the city center with the purchase of a special cup.
To drink alcohol in public, rally attendees purchased a red mug for $ 5 within the limits of the downtown entertainment district. The money from the cuts went to the Fort Smith History Museum, Antioch for Youth and Family, the Children’s Service League and the Buddy Smith Veterans Home.
The rally organizers are still calculating donations, which were earned through the sale of event cups and merchandise.
“It’s a great event for us,” said Sharon Chapman, Director of Homelessness Services for Next Step, who oversees the Buddy Smith Veterans Home. “It gives us visibility and lets people know about our housing program. We are happy to be a part of it.”
Pedestrians have been observed on the main strip of Garrison Avenue and in the Bakery District, said Timothy Jacobsen, director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We usually only have rainfall, but we stayed busy, stayed steady all day,” said Trey Mahoney, owner of the Big Tasty Burger food truck, which operates in the bakery district. Mahoney plans to apply for a space on Garrison Avenue in 2022.
The rally brings in taxpayer dollars, which benefits the city and businesses, be it accommodation, food, retail, transportation or rentals, Jacobsen said.
Cops and Cones stood in the middle of Garrison Avenue and showcased the precision riding skills of motorcycle officers from police departments including Fort Smith, Van Buren and Little Rock Police Departments.
“I’m sure now it will become a regular addition to the Steel Horse Rally. We will open it up to other law enforcement agencies,” Snow said. “We had several law enforcement agencies from Texas, Missouri that wanted to get in.
“Barring another pandemic or other unforeseen disaster, we will continue to have this the first weekend in May from now on,” he said.
Jacobsen expects the Steel Horse Rally to attract more visitors before and after the event and during the duration of the event itself to grow. He said events like this typically increase 5% to 15% year over year.
“Arkansas and Fort Smith are a great opportunity for the experience runners want to have,” he said.
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Did you know:
The Steel Horse Rally is the largest event to date in Arkansas to use the state’s new entertainment districts law, which allows pedestrians to drink alcohol in public in designated areas of cities.