Business / Economy

Motorcycle rally promoter cuts ties with Hollister

City officials say the search is on for a new promoter, as the previous one still owes $90,000 that was due July 1

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the Fourth of July Hollister Freedom Rally motorcycle event downtown will continue despite the formal announcement Tuesday that the promoter of the rally will not organize next summer's event. 

"The show goes on," Velazquez told BenitoLink Tuesday afternoon. "The rally's here and there are several promoters who would like to do it. It's unfortunate that (ConvExx) chose not to do it."

City Manager William Avera told BenitoLink that the promoter still owes the city half of the $180,000 it was contracted to pay in three installments — two $45,000 payments, which were made, and a $90,000 payment that was due on July 1, which has not been paid. He also said that his is sure that the city's pursuit of the money it is owed "will end up with some sort of (court) case."

In a press release sent out Tuesday afternoon, ConvExx said it "regretfully" announces that it would not return to produce the rally in 2016. 

"Unfortunately, responsibilities of parties associated with the production of the Rally were not met, and ConvExx had to make the difficult decision to not continue its role in the production of future rallies on behalf of the city of Hollister," the promoter said, without addressing specific dollar figures.

Velazquez said the reasons for the pull-out are "tricky" as there is "some money still owed to the city. At some point, yes, we fully expect to be paid."

Avera was more blunt, saying, "There's absolutely zero debate about what's owed. A contract is a contract regardless of what your feelings are after it's over. The rally was never set up to be a money-maker — we always shot for cost-recovery. That was always my biggest goal. We invested money into some of the infrastructure for the rally because the (city) council committed a couple of years ago that we'd do this for 10 years in a row."

The mayor said the promoter had issues with the language of the contract, which was actually agreed to with the Hollister Downtown Association working on behalf of the city. "Part of it is the understanding of the contract and what was agreed upon and what he feels he should pay," Velazquez said. "For a contact, you all agree with something and if you want to change for the following year you change it the following year."

Avera agreed, saying that the city is "always expected to make good on our end (of a contract) and we believe we did. We certainly know that the promoter didn't keep up his part. The council, the city and the HDA all had an arrangement and an agreement, and one of the parties that had a direct contract with the HDA fell short on their end of the deal. I don't know it it really matters to me if it's one year, two years or three years" to receive the money he says the city is owed, "I think we'll prevail in the end."

Rally Chairman Chuck Schwartz said in the release, "We are certainly disappointed that we will not be able to help with the rally in the future. We went into this relationship with the hopes of building upon the great tradition of the Hollister Motorcycle Rally for the long term. We believe the rally has great potential for the future; however we could not come to an understanding with all the interested parties associated with the rally for the future."

He called the 2015 rally a "huge success," with an estimated attendance of more than 40,000. He also cited positive feedback from rally vendors, attendees and local businesses.

"ConvExx is very proud to have produced a successful event for the City of Hollister this past July, and wish the Hollister community only the best for the future," the release said.

Velazquez said that "there are several promoters calling right now excited about the opportunity" to promote the 2016 rally. "It's just unfortunate that (ConVexx) chose not to continue and watch it grow."

The hiring of the next promoter will not be done with a typical bid process, where the lowest bidder is selected, Velazquez said. 

"Part of the issue we've had in the past is trying to do it that way," he said. "There's only so many promoters that do these type of things, so we'll see which one stands up and has a proven track record. We'll see what they have to offer and go from there."

Avera expected that the council will quickly move to direct staff to release a proposal that will qualify individuals and firms who are interested in promoting the rally, "That's gotta happen pretty quickly," Avera said, noting that Hollister Police Chief David Westrick preferred to have arrangements for the rally made by December to allow for ample planning time.

The next contract involving a promoter and the city likely will not involve the HDA, Avera said. "I don't think the HDA has any desire to be involved again. We went with them because we felt they'd be a great liaison between the city and the promoter, and we hoped it would help their organization generate money."

While it was assumed that next year's rally was a sure thing, Avera said the pullout of the promoter will give the council something to ponder.

"These are policy decisions," he said. "If the council wants to have a rally then we'll do what the council wants. If somebody comes up and proves that they have the wherewithal to do it and do it in a short amount of time," staff will recommend moving forward. However, he does remain concerned about the difficulty in getting promoters to pay the city on time, which was an issue with the rally's previous promoter as well.

"We want to make sure we receive all of our money," Avera said. "If I'm recommending a contract to the council and somebody doesn't want to make good on the contract, that reflects poorly on me. I'm going to try to ask that all of our money is collected and into our office prior to the event," which was the goal this past summer. "That'll always be my recommendation from here forward. It's very difficult to get money from people after the event is over."

Holding a motorcycle rally in Hollister without a promoter is not an option for the city, Avera added. "We can't have an event if we don't have somebody to put it on," he said. "The city certainly doesn't have the wherewithal to do it alone."

Velazquez, who owns The Vault in downtown Hollister — which was rented out during the rally — recused himself from the promoter negotiations last time around to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. This time, however, he said, he plans to be involved.

"I want to make sure I'm more involved in the negotiations," he said, noting that he can participate as long as he doesn't make more than $20,000 off of the event. "I'll work that part out. If I have to be closed for the year, I'll be closed for the year," he said, referring to his rental of The Vault during the rally weekend.


Adam Breen

Adam Breen has been a San Benito County resident since 1980 and graduated from Sacred Heart School and San Benito High School before earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fresno. A father of two sons, Adam has taught newspaper, English and yearbook at SBHS for the past decade, after six years as a magazine editor for Santa Clara University. He previously was editor of the Hollister Free Lance and content director for BenitoLink.