Words & Deeds

UPDATED: Tour de Fat: Not just $25. Now leaving Ann Morrison Park, too

Tour de Fat appears to be getting a flat.

The philanthropic bike and beer festival, which has cruised into Ann Morrison Park for the past nine years, will take place at the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Outlaw Field instead this summer.

This surprising news comes less than a month after the revelation that Tour de Fat’s concert will be a ticketed event for the first time. It’s all part of a new plan for the annual tour, which will expand from nine cities last year to 33 cities — and hit Boise on Saturday, Aug. 12.

Fort Collins, Colorado-based organizer New Belgium Brewing Co. makes no money on Tour de Fat. The cash goes to local nonprofits. Charging for tickets will help cover production costs, Tour de Fat operations manager Paul Gruber says.

“We needed to update our model,” he says, “and move into a Tour de Fat sustainable model, so that we can have a greater reach, and we can help more nonprofits and more cities across the country.”

Going from free to $25 caused a certain amount of grumbling, naturally. It doesn’t help that the headlining rock band in Boise, Blackberry Smoke, commanded a $15 ticket when it played at the Knitting Factory three years ago.

But pulling Tour de Fat out of Boise’s central flagship park? Why? As beautiful as Outlaw Field is, how does that make sense?

The city of Boise traditionally has chosen not to allow ticketed events in parks. Hence, the move.

“If they become a free event again, we’d love to have them,” says Parks & Rec director Doug Holloway. “... It’s too bad, honestly, because it is a very popular event.”

“Ann Morrison is probably the most beautiful park we had on our entire tour,” Gruber says. “We would have loved to stay there.”

Someone help me put a positive spin on this. It feels like they’re letting the air out of the tires.

“I really do think starting fresh with the Tour de Fat in the Idaho Botanical Garden is giving us a nice, new opportunity with a fourth nonprofit partner out there,” Gruber says. “I really do think that’s going to be a good thing for us.”

To be fair, Tour de Fat is about more than seeing a band. It’s driven by ridiculous costumes, a bike parade (free, with donations suggested), New Belgium craft beer (not free) and plenty of goofy entertainment. Most important, it’s for great causes — now four of them in Boise.

Last year, a whopping $63,365 was raised for the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association, Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and Boise Bicycle Project.

When it first came to Boise in 2002, Tour de Fat was held at Julia Davis Park. The crowds grew, necessitating a move in 2008. Last year, the festival attracted about 12,000 bicycle and beer fans to Ann Morrison Park, and the same number for the bike parade, according to organizers. This year’s parade will take a similar route around Ann Morrison Park and Downtown and be at a similar time of day. Hours later, Idahoans interested in beer and music will head out to Outlaw Field. That event runs from 4 to 9 p.m.

Over the years, Tour de Fat has generated more than $500,000 for Boise bicycle nonprofits. It’s raised more than $4.5 million for nonprofits nationwide. The tour’s nationwide goal this year is to generate more than $600,000 in support of local causes.

It’s difficult to fathom how charging for tickets and relocating the festival to East Boise helps the bottom line for the nonprofits. Attendance will get crushed. Outlaw Field only holds 4,000 people at full capacity.

Maybe New Belgium is aiming for a trade-off. It will be able to market its beers in more cities this year, but perhaps generate less money per city for each of the individual nonprofits?

Whatever the case, the Idaho Botanical Garden stands to gain.

Will the three other Boise nonprofits — the bicycle groups — take a hit?

“I certainly hope not,” Gruber says. “But in a realistic world, with the capacity out there, we may sell a little less beer. But at the same time, the Garden is also benefiting from the event. So from an overall fundraising reach for Boise, I think we’ll be on par with what we’ve been in the past if not even a little bit up.”

I guess we’ll see.

Let’s hope Tour de Fat can patch its tube with Boise and keep rolling. These changes feel like more than a pothole in the road.

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