When your community is the largest along the RAGBRAI route and it’s the 40th year of the event, the budget is significantly greater than what is spent by a typical host city.
It has been 22 years since RAGBRAI last made an overnight stop in Cedar Rapids. Marilee Fowler, president of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said 20 committees have been working since last summer to prepare for as many as 28,000 cyclists arriving the afternoon of Thursday, July 26, and leaving the following morning.
“We anticipate that the total budget for this will be about $400,000,” Fowler said.
Sandi Fowler, assistant to City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, said the largest-single expense will be an estimated $250,000 for the Party on the Island concert Thursday evening by the Counting Crows.
“That $250,000 is expected to pay for the band, staging, lighting, electricity, fencing, security, misting fans, tents, seating and Porta-Potty rental,” Sandi Fowler said.
She said the remaining $150,000 will be spent on public safety along the lengthy routes leading into and out of the city.
“We’re also using three city parks as campgrounds, and they need to be equipped with amenities like showers, restrooms and tents,” she said. “You don’t normally have 9,000 people sleeping overnight in Ellis Park. It’s important that you have all those amenities in place so riders can take a shower after they ride in and then jump on a shuttle that will bring them downtown.”
The shuttle service will cost about $10,000 for fuel and driver pay.
Fowler said the $400,000 cash-in/cash-out budget does not count in-kind contributions or “untold number of hours” provided by volunteers.
By way of comparison, consider RAGBRAI’s stop last year in Coralville. The community spent about $50,000, said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We have never hosted a RAGBRAI when we didn’t make money as an organizing committee,” Schamberger said. “Every time we have ended up with a profit of between $10,000 and $25,000.”
Sandi Fowler said RAGBRAI officials expected a much larger and more costly event in Cedar Rapids when the community was chosen as a host community.
“They expected us as a larger community to be able to host an event of a different caliber than other cities normally provide for RAGBRAI,” Fowler said. “We are confident that we have put a plan in place to deliver that. We’re also confident that we will be able to raise all the funding needed to pay for the cost of the event.”
The CVB’s Marilee Fowler said $150,000 was raised in sponsorships, and vendor fees will help, too. The two biggest sources of revenue, she said, are expected to be $200,000 in ticket sales for the Counting Crows concert and the sales of T-shirts and bandannas.
The city provided $60,000 in seed money from hotel/motel tax revenue, and Marilee Fowler said the first check that will be cut will be repayment of that seed money.
While Cedar Rapids organizers expect to break even on RAGBRAI, will the local economy get a boost? Business expectations are mixed.
“Anytime we can get thousands of people coming through Czech Village, how can it not be positive?” said Calvin Spinka, co-owner of Frame Trader, 72 16th Ave. SW.
“I have a sign that I plan to put out, because we all work together in the village and I want it to go well, but I don’t see it helping my business at all,” said Pamela Jean Evens, owner of PJ’s Czech Shop, 76 16th Ave. SW.
Spinka, who owns and operates a custom framing business with his father, Frank, predicts they may sell some of the shop’s retail items that typically are impulse purchases.
Evens does not expect to sell many antiques to cyclists.
“We won’t get a lot of traffic from RAGBRAI,” Evens said. “The bars and restaurants will get most of the traffic.”
Jeremy Ward, manager of Vernon Bar & Grill, 3025 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, is hopeful that a few riders will drop by Friday morning on the way to Anamosa.
“Maybe some of them will stop in for a Bloody Mary,” Ward said. “If I could get a thousand stopping by for a drink or something to eat, I would certainly welcome them.”