One of downtown Mesa’s most popular monthly events is threatened after its organizer announced he’s pulling his sponsorship of Motorcycles on Main.
Jon Richards said the Dec. 3 event is the last he’ll put his own time and money into because of what he considers excessive regulation and a lack of city support.
He and other merchants created Motorcycles on Main out of frustration that the city and the Downtown Mesa Association weren’t doing enough to sponsor events and make downtown lively. The merchants even created an organization called Downtown Events to oversee the activities.
The first event was held in February and has since attracted about 3,000 people on the first Friday of each month. The event’s success triggered the same merchants to propose another monthly event — Rats, Rods & Roadsters.
But organizers would have had to pay $3,000 a year for city permits, the cost of mailing event notices to property owners several times a year, and the expense of a complaint hotline and log, Richards said.
Most merchants welcomed the events, Richards said, but four unhappy landowners tried to block it.
“It’s getting progressively easier to do things downtown, but there is a strong reaction from property owners who own a lot of property to not have events in downtown,” Richards said. “Those property owners do not own downtown Mesa. The community owns downtown Mesa.”
Richards said he spent about $3,000 of his own money and hundreds of hours on Motorcycles on Main, but he estimated it would cost $75,000 a year to produce if everybody involved was paid. He planned to turn the event over to the city or DMA after proving it would succeed, but he said both entities refused any meaningful support.
Richards wasn’t willing to keep spending his own money. The event did have other sponsors, including Chester’s Harley-Davidson of Mesa, and Richards said he hopes those supporters will take it over. Nobody has stepped up yet.
A survey of merchants showed the event generated $360,000 in extra business, Richards said.
The DMA wants the event to stay downtown, said David Short, its executive director. Short said he’ll look into what can be done. He began his job Nov. 1, after the DMA’s board of directors hired him because of his background organizing events.
“That’s a big piece of what they brought me here to do,” Short said.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith agreed he’d like the event to continue. Smith has been critical of the DMA and has called for a more robust effort to improve downtown.
Smith said Richards has overstated the level of resistance, adding the city is working to cut red tape so it’s easier to stage events. Smith said it would have been unimaginable just a few years ago that Mesa would close Main – and to allow beer gardens.
“These events would never have happened or been a success if the city didn’t have a drastic change in how it did things,” Smith said.
He acknowledged merchants may still run into bumps as Mesa tries to change decades-old regulations. Less restrictive rules should be in place in about two months, Smith said.
Richards said despite his frustration, he believes the event proves downtown can attract visitors and be lively. Richards said Motorcycles on Main defied skeptics, including the DMA’s early view on it.
“I was told it was impossible to close Main,” Richards said. “We found out it can be closed. We can have events on Main Street and make this a community center again. You’re not going to have a vibrant downtown if you don’t push these events forward.”