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Published 9:45 am Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rally on the River slated for this week

Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the eastern United States will ride their way into Ironton this week for the 8th annual Rally on the River bike festival.

The annual event, hosted by the Friends of Ironton grassroots civic organization, will begin at 11 a.m. Thursday in downtown Ironton and wrap up at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 people are expected to attend during the four-day event that will set up in the area around Bobby Bare Boulevard and Second Street, said Dave Smith, a Friends board member. That would be an increase over last year’s crowd — an estimated 30,000 people.

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Smith said there have been 4 million hits on the Rally’s website, up last year from approximately a quarter of a million. People from several states have contacted the group saying they’ll attend the Rally, he said.

Big-name bands are one reason for the anticipated bigger turn out this year, Smith said. Bands Saving Abel, Seven Mary Three and Finger Eleven will take the stage.

“This is much higher profile entertainment than we’ve ever had,” Smith said. “We’ve had regional bands before but never national. Saving Abel has six hits to their credit.”

Another new addition this year, the Friends will host a bikini contest and midget wrestling show in the Ro-Na Theater, the historic downtown movie house the group is working to renovate.

Smith said the group decided to take those events indoors to keep them out of view from those who may want to attend the more family-friendly events that Rally has to offer. A free bikini bike wash will be 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ohio Flags of Honor, a traveling memorial, will be another feature of the event. There will be an opening ceremony for the memorial at the Ironton Hills Shopping Center at 5 p.m. Friday. A closing ceremony will be at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Friends of Ironton use money raised during the event to fund projects that benefit the city. For instance, the Friends built the Splash Park on Second Street in downtown Ironton. The park was a gift to the city. The Friends also are working to renovate the historic Ro-Na Theater.

Rally attendees may enter the event from three locations: behind the Ro-Na Theatre, near the Senior citizens center on Second Street and on Vernon Street between Second and Third streets. Security personnel will be stationed at each of the three entrances. Alcoholic beverages may not be carried into the event.

Smith said 50 food and product vendors­ — twice as many as last year — are expected to setup during the event. Those vendors will set up within the parameters of the event and pay the organization a fee.

Rally on the River has been at the center of discussion for city officials for weeks after the Ironton City Council adopted an ordinance requiring outside vendors who set up anywhere within the city during the event to pay the organization a fee.

Smith said the organization’s leadership is disappointed because they are worried the city will not enforce the new ordinance.

City councilman Mike Lutz, who sponsored the ordinance, disputes that perception.

“Why would we enact an ordinance that was not going to be enforced?” Lutz said. “That would be silly. I would expect that the city would enforce all ordinances.”

The ordinance states that during special events, the event’s hosting organization will set the fees for the vendors who set up in the city limits. The ordinance does not specify how the ordinance will be enforced or what the penalties will be if vendors don’t pay the fee.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said Friday that the city will do its best to enforce it while continuing to offer police protection to the rest of the city.

Smith said the Friends of Ironton plan to “take a very hard look” at whether or not to continue to have the event in Ironton.