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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gator Harley-Davidson event among those blessed by Leesburg commissioners

Leesburg Commissioner Jay Hurley

On a night when the Leesburg Commission unanimously voted to bless opening the city back up for special events – with caution – a good part of the discussion centered on an upcoming event planned at Gator Harley-Davidson.

Commissioner Jay Hurley, himself a motorcycle enthusiast, made an impassioned plea for the city to start OK’ing events again and getting back to some sense of normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic . He pointed put that Gov. Ron DeSantis had moved the state into Phase Three of his reopening plan, which allows bars and restaurants to go to 100 percent capacity, among other things.

At this past Monday night’s meeting, commissioners agreed to begin allowing festivals and other special events with the caveat that caution still remains a priority. Mayor Elise Dennison stressed that fact more than once and pointed out that even though DeSantis had greenlighted Phase Three, there were still some questions as to what that meant and the pandemic is far from over.

Hurley pointed out that businesses throughout the city have been struggling and pushed for things to “open back up.” He also offered praise and support for Gator Harley-Davidson owner John Malik and his staff, who are planning an event on Nov. 13-15 – the dates that originally had been planned for the popular Leesburg Bikefest after it had been moved from it’s normal slot in April. That large-scale November event was canceled earlier this month by the Leesburg Partnership and commissioners made it quite clear that even though DeSantis had reopened the state, the event wouldn’t return until April 2021.

Commissioner Dan Robuck III, who was participating in the meeting via telephone, said he was concerned about Gator Harley-Davidson using the word “Bikefest” in the title of its event, as well as the size of the upcoming gathering. Commissioner John Christian expressed similar sentiments about the size of the expected crowd.

John Malik

But Gator Harley-Davidson owner John Malik assured commissioners that he didn’t expect to have more than 500 people in his parking lot at any given time, which would eliminate the need for him to seek a permit. Hurley reiterated that point, saying that motorcyclists would attend the event, enjoy a hot dog, purchase a T-shirt and then head to their next destination, as the goal is to enjoy riding instead of just being at an event all day.

Malik also pointed out to commissioners that motorcycle dealerships and other organizations across the country typically hold events with “Bikefest” as part of the title. He said Leesburg doesn’t have a lock on that name but offered to call his event something else if that would make the commission happy.

After the meeting, Hurley said he was pleased with the outcome.

“Our events are small,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re not a metropolitan area. So it’s time to let our nonprofits and our businesses start having events to generate revenue because there’s just no more money for handouts to help people out. For me, anything we can do to start generating people going back into the community and spending money and getting some kind of normalcy and quality of life coming into the holidays is a win 100 percent.

Malik said he also was happy with the outcome. He said it appeared that some commissioners were confused about how many people would be attending the event at any given time, with some expressing fear of crowds around 15,000.

“It will be nowhere near that,” he said. “If I’ve got more than 500 people in my parking lot at one time, I’d be totally shocked.”

Malik added that part of his goal in having the November event is to help his fellow business owners, especially those in the downtown area who are struggling to keep their doors open.

“I think I have 11 bars and restaurants that are on board to come down to the dealership and hand out coupons and stuff,” he said. “First drink free, appetizer free, something like that. Anything to help promote their businesses is what I’m really trying to do because I know a lot of them are hurting.”

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