Not Everyone Profits From ROT Rally

Last weekend was all about noise and headaches for some Congress Avenue merchants

Restaurant Jezebel, an upscale Congress Avenue eatery, tried to make up for lost business during the ROT rally by selling beer and sandwiches to go.
Restaurant Jezebel, an upscale Congress Avenue eatery, tried to make up for lost business during the ROT rally by selling beer and sandwiches to go. (Photo courtesy of Parind Vora)

With the arrival of every summer, the Republic of Texas Biker Rally rolls into town and infuses Austin's pockets with tens of millions of dollars over the course of a few days. But this year, several Congress Avenue merchants say promoters of the Downtown parade, which was capped off by a daring motorcycle jump, neglected to communicate with the businesses most affected by the event.

The city is switching to a new street-closure ordinance designed to circumvent the complaints that typically follow the increasingly frequent foot races and other events that call for street barricades and rerouted traffic. In the case of the ROT rally, promoters Roadway Productions received approval to take over Congress Avenue under the city's pre-existing closure rules. And because the rally enjoys senior status – this year marked its 15th year – the event received "grandfathered" treatment from the city, which waived the rule requiring for-profit events to secure approval from 80% of the businesses impacted by street closures. An added component of this year's parade – the jump by stuntman Robbie Knievel – carried a $20 admission fee to the staging area on 11th Street in front of the Capitol, which took in portions of the north end of Congress Avenue. The street closure and admission charge, says Parind Vora, owner of Restaurant Jezebel, dealt a huge blow to his Friday night business.

"I don't mind doing my part for charity events," Vora said, "but this was a for-profit event, a private event, which effectively closed every business on the block." (At press time, ROT rally promoters had not responded to a phone call or e-mails from the Chronicle.)

Both Vora and Little City owner Donna Taylor said that while in previous years they received letters notifying them of the motorcycle parade, they learned of this year's event in media reports just one week before the June 12 parade. The two neighboring businesses hastily arranged to make do with the situation by selling to-go items such as beer and sandwiches out of their restaurants. "What was so frustrating was the lack of information and coordination," Taylor said. "We didn't know what, legally, we could do or couldn't do." Little City was able to generate a good night's worth of business selling beer, but Jezebel, an upscale establishment that relies heavily on revenue from weekend diners, will need at least three weeks to recover from one night of lost business, Vora said. To make matters worse, someone (Vora and Taylor suspect competing food vendors) tipped off Texas Alcohol and Beverage Com­mis­sion that the restaurants were selling takeout beer. TABC reps did come calling, Vora and Taylor say, but soon departed after seeing they had their required "to-go" permits.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Austin Alliance, which heard an earful from angry business owners on Monday, has asked the city to arrange a meeting between businesses and rally promoters to ensure that next year's event runs more smoothly. "Somewhere, there was a hiccup," said Thomas Butler, transportation director for the alliance. "So we thought this would be best resolved with all the affected parties coming to the table."

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