Aug 9, 2023 - News

RAGBRAI 2023 towns and vendors share financial highs and lows

RAGBRAI cyclists on a road

RAGBRAI in 2021. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

RAGBRAI vendors and towns experienced financial highs and lows during this last year's attendance-breaking event.

Why it matters: The annual ride is a way Iowa communities can gain visibility and financial support as cyclists eat, party and rest in towns.

  • The cycling tourism often doubles or triples towns' population sizes.

Flashback: In 2020, Gannett, the company that owns RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register, pledged more support to towns the ride goes through.

  • The pledge came following concerns in 2019 about the financial burdens communities faced from hosting the event. That year, officials from Knoxville, which was an overnight town, told the Gazette they lost $132K largely due to overtime for police and emergency workers.

What's happening: This year, RAGBRAI gave $5,000 to each pass-through town, $10,000 to seven meeting towns and $15,000 to eight overnight towns, the Register reports.

State of play: Joshua Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, helped organize the overnight Coralville stop.

  • Despite a severe storm canceling the overnight entertainment and a $50,000 to $60,000 beer garden revenue loss, he says the event did not cause the city to lose money.
  • RAGBRAI took on additional expenses this year that usually burdened overnight towns, including paying for "Bush," the concert entertainer, as well as shirts for volunteers.
  • Previously, he said his goal was to break even after RAGBRAI but with the increased contributions: "We're very much in the black and that's a good thing," he says.

Zoom in: Grinnell was a pass-through town where riders dealt with high temperatures.

  • While organizing the event went successfully, there were fewer riders than anticipated because of the heat, Kendra Vincent of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce tells Axios.
  • "Some people had really great days, some people had good days and some people had okay days," Vincent said of the local vendors.
  • The chamber has not finalized their expenses and revenues yet.

What they're saying: While the event produced mixed financial results for vendors throughout the week, for Sunny Hill Care Center, a nursing home in Tama — the event was a success.

  • For years, residents were wanting a soft-serve ice cream machine, Megan Thiessen, the home's administrator, tells Axios.
  • They offered burgers and brats for a free-will donation and raised over $3,200 — enough for the machine and then some.
  • "It was very successful," Thiessen says. "You're exhausted, but it was very successful."

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