Hundreds of bike racers and fans converged on downtown Tacoma last summer for a day of bicycle racing known as the Tacoma Twilight Criterium. They won’t be back this summer.
Instead they’ll have the third annual race on a closed course around the Proctor Business District, where the new lead organizer has a new store. He said Thursday that the district is more welcoming.
“I didn’t want to do it downtown because it doesn’t have the right vibe,” said Tacoma Bike owner Mike Baker, who has taken over the planning from the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission after budget cuts forced it to pare down its events.
Baker, whose original location is in the Dome District, said downtown’s “streets are too wide. There are too many open spaces.”
“And, I never got a truly warm and fuzzy feeling from the downtown business owners,” he said.
The criterium is a fast-paced bike race, modeled after a similar event in downtown Boise, which has had one for more than 20 years and draws 15,000 people.
Tacoma’s first Criterium was in 2010, and the sports commission had a hard time convincing some business owners of its value. To some, it was another inconvenient street closure in an area that has a dozen or so big events every year.
At the time, then-Downtown Merchant Group president Whitney Rhodes said the issue was one of notice and communication – a flashpoint for small-business owners’ deeper frustrations over sudden street closures.
“We did our best to fit into this area where we had minimal impact on businesses, and it was a struggle,” Tim Waer, the commission’s executive director, said Thursday. The idea was to race in late afternoon and early evening, hence the name Twilight Criterium, but organizers changed the schedule.
Races happened in mid-afternoon to ensure appointment-based businesses had a free morning and that nightclub patrons could easily park at night.
But despite two successful years that brought hundreds of people downtown, organizers still felt little enthusiasm from area businesses.
“We were trying to do something really cool and got a lot of good feedback, but not from businesses downtown. Even the ones that did well, we were surprised that they said, ‘eh,’” Waer said.
Then there were the passive-aggressive shots – “jabs here and there,” Waer called them – like a jewelry store owner who moved from a Pacific Avenue office building to a store near the mall, and said the bike race was part of the reason.
Current DMG president Judi Hyman didn’t return a call for comment Thursday.
“I thought it was interesting that you bring three to four thousand people downtown and that was a bad thing,” Baker said. “We had a very vocal business down there that just didn’t want us.” He said it was Headliners Salon, on South Ninth and Pacific Avenue.
Chuck and Sherry Hopson, owners of Headliners, said all events that cause street closures on Saturdays are troubling for their business. They do brisk trade with clients who book months in advance, and they don’t believe event organizers give business owners enough notice.
Chuck Hopson said he complained about the Criterium the first year, then decided to just close the doors last year.
“The first year, yes, I did (complain). It’s affecting my livelihood. Saturday is my money day,” he said. “Last year I didn’t say a word about it. I chose to take (the) day off, so they can have the event. I’m just trying to make a living.”
Growing pains are to be expected with new events, and businesses need time to adjust.
Bob Casey, who used to manage The Harmon on Pacific Avenue, said the annual Daffodil Parade used to kill its traffic. But it came up with supplemental events, including a car show, to draw parade watchers.
A block away from Headliners, at Vinum Coffee & Wine Lounge, owner Jennifer Zaskorski planned to cash in on the criterium this year. She and her co-owners made changes for the Daffodil Parade last weekend, sleeping overnight at the store and opening early. They tripled their sales on parade day.
For the criterium, they planned a beer garden and live music.
“I was looking forward to it this year. I had planned to make changes to make it more successful and enjoyable,” she said.
Photographer Gayle Rieber, who has a studio on A Street, said it’s sad criterium organizers felt they weren’t welcome downtown. Proctor has the same mix of businesses downtown and doesn’t seem to have trouble supporting events, she said.
“I think they’re more unified,” Rieber said. Why? Downtown businesses are spread out. “We get stuck in our own business world.”
Reggie Frederick owns Chalet Bowl in Proctor and is on the business district’s executive committee, which approved Baker’s plan to run the criterium.
Events do impede some business, he said, but the publicity is invaluable.
“There are some that aren’t happy about it,” he said, “but majority rules. If we vote to back something, then we go ahead with it.
“This is something that a business will promote themselves, and is asking for help from district,” Frederick said. “We don’t see that very often.”
Baker is leading the criterium now. He recently opened a store on North 26th Street, and is looking for a lead sponsor. It’s scheduled for June 30.
“This district just shocks me, the contrast,” he said of the support he’s getting in Proctor. “These guys are willing to block their streets for the trade-off of having three to four thousand people standing in front of their locations.”
Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546