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Niagara MC Rally July 5-8 proves a bone of contention for pastor

NIAGARA FALLS -- The pastor of Zion Lutheran Church isn't happy the city has given organizers of the Niagara MC Rally permission to host the third annual event July 5-8 -- in a vacant lot next to the church at 10th Street and Michigan Avenue .

However, after a meeting of city leaders and organizers, the event will go on -- but maybe a bit tamer.

The church is hosting 70 teenagers from around the country during July, as well as a daily summer camp for children ages 5 to 11.

The Rev. William Nelson-Loefke said he isn't very pleased about rally activities, including wet T-shirt contests and live music.

Rally supporters, however, say the event will provide some zing for a tired section of the city.

The rally begins at 6 p.m. July 5, with a concert at 10 p.m.; 7 p.m. July 6, also with a concert at 10; 7 p.m. July 7, with a performance by the Rhythm Pigs at 10; and noon , July 8, with a 3:30 p.m. concert by Blues Justice.

Nelson-Loefke said city officials made some promises to the rally's promoter even before the City Council approved the event.

"The biggest problem with this thing is there were some back-door deals and promises made," he said.

Parking for the rally is on Main Street. Also near the rally's epicenter is the Center for Joy, 1117 Michigan Ave., which is run by the Sisters of Charity, an order of nuns that provides social services to inner-city neighborhoods as well as educational and enrichment programs, especially for young people.

This summer, for the fifth year in a row, 50 children ages 6 to 12 will participate in a summer camp run by the Center for Joy, Nelson-Loefke said.

Also, 50 to 75 teenagers ages 13 to 15, from YouthWorks, based in Minneapolis, will stay at his church while they perform service projects in the city, including raking, painting and cleaning up.

Nelson-Loefke estimated there are more than 150 children "down in that area every single day."

Nelson-Loefke, who suffered a serious leg injury in a motorcycle accident, said he objects to the rally being near his church.

"I'm not against motorcyclists. I rode for a long time, with my parents, my grandparents," Nelson-Loefke said. "But there's always a criminal element."

Other concerns include "oil wrestling" contests, the level of police protection, as well as noise and fumes.

Nelson-Loefke said he also did not like the stories he has heard about the first year of the rally, held in the parking lot of The Summit mall in Wheatfield. "I've heard stories that the waitresses were naked . . . and I have a problem with that on a number of levels."

His wife, the Rev. Mary Anne Nelson-Loefke, pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Grand Island, said she also is not very happy about the motorcycle rally.

"We live in the neighborhood, kind of close to the church and I feel like we already have enough messes down in the north end in terms of drugs and gangs."

Mrs. Nelson-Loefke said, "It's supposed to be good publicity, but I think we're just inviting crime to happen."

Carmen Toromino, promoter of the event, said Mayor Vince Anello and members of the Main Street Business Association asked him to bring the rally to the city. For 2006, it took place in the parking lot of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA in the Town of Niagara.

Members of the city's Tourism Advisory Council and Anello asked him to bring it here, Toromino said.

"There's nothing alive down there. This is a spark they need so bad," Toromino said. "It's a thrust, hopefully."

And this year, Toromino is not charging anything to enter the rally. He expects about the same crowd as last year -- 15,000 to 18,000 people.

The Niagara Falls native who now lives in Amherst said children are welcome to come to the rally to check out the motorcycles.

"There's a lot of children that come, believe it or not. But we suggest that they don't come at night."

Toromino said he purposely planned the rally to not impact on church services, so he is not featuring music in the morning.
And area businesses such as bars, restaurants and motels all profit from motorcycle enthusiasts traveling to Niagara Falls, Toromino said.

Visitors to the rally will also have the ability to donate to Mercy Flight.

Toromino said he will set up a food area in the 1900 block of Main Street, which is open to the general public. The event will feature "a good variety of carnival food," he said.

Kevin Ormsby, the city's manager of tourism and business development, said the rally should give the city a small economic boost.

"I think it will give a little economic shot in the arm to that part of the city. There's not much happening down there right now."

And Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards, who owns and rides two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, said his town had no problems from the rally.

"It was a very nice event and I'm disappointed that it did not return to the mall."

Richards dispelled the stereotype of bikers.

"Bikers aren't the bikers of the old days . . . It's mostly professional people."

City Administrator William Bradberry said last week that he had not seen the permit application for the event, but he, Toromino and a group of city representatives had a positive meeting to address concerns about a biker convention.

"He did tone it down substantially," said Bradberry, saying Toromino agreed to move the event a "respectable distance" away from the church. Toromino also agreed to provide proof of insurance and a license to sell liquor at the event, he said.

"I'd like to see it become a long-term bike rally," Bradberry said.

City Police Superintendent John Chella said he didn't have any concerns with the rally. "From a police standpoint, we're satisfied we can give it the protection it needs and address any concerns that come up."

For more information about the motorcycle rally, go to http://www.niagaramcrally.com.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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