It’s official: RAGBRAI riders will be touring through town on Newton’s main artery.
The Newton City Council on May 15 approved the RAGBRAI route, the entry point of which will be Highway F-48 West/First Avenue West and the exit point will be Highway 6/First Avenue East. Council members were given a choice between two different route options, which were debated at a past meeting.
• Route A would have cyclists leave the downtown on North Second Avenue East to East Seventh Street North, then to North Fourth Avenue East, then to Highway T-12 North and then onto Highway 6.
• Route B would have cyclists leaving downtown on East Third Street North to First Avenue East, then travel the length of First Avenue all the way to Highway 6.
Council members were all in agreement that Route B would be the best choice. Staff did not provide council members with a recommendation over which route to take, but rather left it open-ended. Council member Randy Ervin was very much in favor of cyclists using the entirety of First Avenue.
“The reason (Route) B and First Avenue really appeals to myself is this is an opportunity to show people what Newton is,” Ervin said. “We talk a lot about tourism. We talk a lot about getting people into our town, getting people from outside of the town. I just think it’s more advantageous.”
Some of the arguments against using the route through First Avenue generally fall back on the businesses who may be adversely affected by the impending closures. Ervin admitted businesses will “absolutely” be impacted by the RAGBRAI riders, but he argued Route B will be better for the city as a whole.
Cyclists will make their way to Newton on Day 5 of RAGBRAI on July 27.
Newton has also been chosen as a meeting town for the 50th RAGBRAI ride in late July. As a meeting town, Newton will host support vehicles and serve as a 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.
The route will also take cyclists through other Jasper County towns, like Colfax and Kellogg. Unlike 2018, Newton will not be an overnight stay this go around. The first set of riders could come in anywhere between 8 and 10 a.m., but they all will be off on their bikes to the next destination around 2 p.m. or so.
Council member Vicki Wade liked to think the businesses that would be impacted by RAGBRAI would take advantage of the tens of thousands of people coming through the community. Wade argued they could even partner with nonprofits as another way to showcase all the good things about Newton.
Other council members agreed First Avenue would introduce riders to a lot of businesses and amenities in Newton. Council member Evelyn George said the updated comprehensive plan mentions the upsides of the city’s small town charm, which she said cyclists will see when they venture through First Avenue.
“We also talked about big city amenities (in the comprehensive plan),” George said to her fellow council members. “First Avenue really allows people to see that we have big stores and some other things that they maybe would not anticipate or expect to see in Newton.”
Council member Mark Hallam pointed to the potential economic impact the ride will have on businesses, and he also noted the closures would not last 24 hours.
The closures would last from about 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Newton Daily News contacted the public works department about the potential detours. Staff still need to meet with the police department to nail down the specifics, but a signed detour will be on East 31st Street North/North 19th Avenue East and Highway 14.
In addition to council’s unanimous approval of the RAGBRAI route, officials also established regulations and a permit structure for the event.
City documents say it is substantially identical to the last RAGBRAI ordinance passed in 2018. Amanda Price, executive director of the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the RAGBRAI Committee, requested the council waive the second and third readings in order to get a head start.
“We obviously have very little time left to plan and raise enough money to make this event very successful,” Price said. “We rely heavily on our beer garden sales and also on our food vendor fees. That pretty much helps offset our entire costs for the event. We also want our local businesses to benefit from this.”
By passing the ordinance, Price added, the council is providing a safer and better event for the riders and the community. The city council did end up waiving the second and third readings, adopting the ordinance on the spot. The ordinance will sunset on July 31.
According to the ordinance, commercial vendor booths will have to pay $450 for a permit, while nonprofits will have to pay $200. The ordinance also establishes that there will be one — and only one — beer garden in the city operating from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the day of the event.
To learn more about the Newton RAGBRAI Committee and its goals to make the community a stop to remember, the group will be holding a town hall meeting on May 24 in the DMACC Newton Auditorium, 600 N. Second Ave. W. for the public to attend. The town hall begins at 5:30 p.m. and will have limited seating.