PIGEON FORGE — Residents and business owners offered their opinions Monday on the state of the city’s car shows, with a consensus seeming to be that the city needs to address rowdy behavior but stopping short of ending the shows.
The comments came at the first meeting after the spring event, which this year included an incident where shots were fired but no one was hurt as well as numerous complaints about fights and vulgar behavior.
City Commission listened to the comments without responding; Mayor David Wear said there would be an opportunity for dialogue at a workshop set for 3:30 p.m. May 5 at City Hall.
The speakers included Journee Clause, who delivered a petition with thousands of signatures calling for the city to end the car shows.
“We all agree Rod Runs have become an unsafe, uninviting and unmanageable event,” she said.
The behavior at the shows has been a problem for years, but she said it’s gotten out of hand recently in terms of violence, DUIs, and harassment.
“Teenage girls are being sexually harassed and threatened if they don’t expose themselves to grown men,” she said.
The Rod Runs bring throngs of people, but there is a debate about how much economic benefit they have for the business community.
It creates traffic jams that affect local residents and workers, while Clause said business at many stores and attractions slows to a crawl during the event.
However, several local business owners said they have customers who patronize their establishments every year and who aren’t part of the crowd that is causing the problem.
Stephen Houser, who owns the Stages West store and serves as chairman of the planning commission, said he has customers who come to his store every year as part of their trip to the Rod Run.
“There are a lot of really good (attendees) that come and visit our businesses year after year that have become part of our family,” he said.
“It’s that repeat business that the city of Pigeon Forge loves and enjoys.”
He acknowledged there are negative parts of the events for all businesses,.
The Rod Run crowd takes up parking spaces for businesses along the Parkway, as they park classic cars facing the road for days in an area that’s considered part of the state’s right of way and therefore public parking, he noted.
As chairman of the planning commission, which approves plans for events like the car shows, he said they need to do a better job of overseeing plans for the events.
It wasn’t clear Monday how the city could plan for the crowds that attend the Rod Run. The city sponsors the show at the Leconte Event Center at Pigeon Forge, but many if not most of the enthusiasts that come to town for the Rod Run weekend never go there.
With cars set up to view and sell along the Parkway, they don’t feel like they need to do so.
Several people who spoke offered suggestions, from increasing the police presence and citations to trying to move it away from the city’s main road.
The city commission didn’t offer any insight into what ideas it’s considering, as they indicated they would discuss that at the workshop next week.
In the days after the Rod Run, Wear and Police Chief Richard Catlett said they would consider everything up to ending the Rod Run.
Several of the people who spoke also said a second event in Sevier County was to blame for the behavior that got out of hand.
“There was another show that was in Sevierville that I personally think attributed more to the negative publicity that was out there,” Houser said.
That apparently referred to the Smoky Mountain Truck Fest, which was held April 17 at Smokies Stadium and is set for the same weekend as next year’s Rod Run as well.
Several of the people who spoke Monday said that much of the rowdy behavior this year came from people driving or riding in diesel trucks.
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