March 31, 2023

Working in tandem

Main Street, Chamber, Legacy Plaza and City of Newton are already preparing for the thousands of RAGBRAI cyclists visiting town

With the recent announcement that Newton will be a meeting town in the 50th RAGBRAI route this summer, local leaders are already starting to plan ahead for the thousands upon thousands of cyclists who will be passing through the town on their way to Tama-Toledo.

Newton Main Street Executive Director Erin Yeager announced in a Facebook post that her organization, along with the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce, Legacy Plaza and City of Newton will be partnering to host the event in the Main Street District.

As a meeting town, Newton will host support vehicles and serve as the halfway point between Des Moines to Tama-Toledo where riders can take a break. Which means there will be an abundance of food and entertainment options, in addition to services that can repair bicycles if need be.

However, it will not be like an overnight stay, which is what occurred in Newton in 2018. The first set of riders could come in anywhere between 8 and 10 a.m., Yeager said, but they will be off on their bikes around 2 p.m. or so. By 3 p.m., organizers will have shut down all sales and entertainment.

During the overnight stop in 2018, Newton stakeholders formed a steering committee to help organize the large-scale, city-wide event. The Chamber and Main Street will be establishing a similar steering committee this time around, too, albeit on a smaller scale.

“We’re hoping to have smaller entertainment with some local bands, some food and encourage all the retailers to be open to invite the riders. This will all be hosted in the Main Street District — the entire Main Street District,” Yeager said about the area made up of downtown, Legacy Plaza and DMACC Newton Campus.

There will be two routes to account for: the riders route and the support vehicle route. Danielle Rogers, community marketing manager for the City of Newton, said the town has to make sure there is available parking for up to 1,500 support vehicles, which is the reason why the entire district must be utilized.

In April, Yeager and Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amanda Price will be attending a RAGBRAI meeting in Des Moines to learn more about what is to come. From there, the Chamber and Main Street will start holding meetings to make sure everything is in place by late July.

RAGBRAI can have a huge impact on a community, especially economically. Rogers served on the 2018 steering committee. She said the city’s population nearly doubled when riders packed in to town to enjoy the food, the sites, businesses and entertainment options at various areas.

“We still hear from RAGBRAI riders about how much they enjoyed coming through Newton,” Rogers said. “I think this event, while on a smaller scale, will get people a taste of Newton again and invite them to get to know us again and see what’s changed in the past couple of years.”

Between the new retailers in the downtown and the new additions to Legacy Plaza, Rogers believes Newton has a lot to show off. While riders are staying in Des Moines, they will be taking part in a Guinness Book of World Records attempt. Rogers hopes that high volume of riders carries over to Newton.

“So they’re expecting a huge crowd on Wednesday, so we’re hoping on Thursday a lot of those people keep riding and want to visit Newton as they head to Tama-Toledo,” Rogers said of July 27 route. “…I don’t want to say double our population again, but hopefully!”

Rogers is always excited to get people to see Newton and perhaps correct those preconceived notions about the town. Showing off the city and what it has to offer to in-state and out-of-state riders is something Rogers is looking forward to. She is confident the community will step up to make the experience enjoyable.

“We’ve got people who step up in our community and are great collaborators and team players and definitely always exceed my expectations when we work on projects like this,” Rogers said. “So I’m excited to just get to work and start working on all that stuff again.”

Yeager added, “I’m excited to showcase the Main Street district and talk with people from all over the world. Newton has a lot to show.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.