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NPR Mayor's Comments Over Bike Fest Sparks Outrage from Business Owners

NEW PORT RICHEY – The Cotee River Bike Fest is one of many events that takes place in and around Sims Park every year. The event draws thousands to the city, and that means a boost in revenue for the many bars, restaurants, and shops that line Main Street and Grand Blvd. The event also raises thousands of dollars for Farrell Cares, a local non-profit that contributes to various causes. According to the non-profit's president Stephen Farrell, all proceeds for this year's festival will benefit the Children's Burn Camp and Pasco County Safety Town. But Farrell and other business owners say the city's mayor betrayed the community, by making discouraging remarks about the event – and they want him removed from office.

Mayor Rob Marlowe recently posted the following statement about the Cotee River Bike Festival on his personal Facebook page:

This is a "throw back" event to remind everyone of what New Port Richey was like when the only thriving businesses were bars and there were no reasons for families to come downtown... the event organizers, with the approval of my four colleagues on the city council, are demanding that tax paying downtown businesses have to pay hundreds of dollars to the event just to be able to grill outside ON THEIR OWN PROPERTY.

Marlowe then cites the Cotee River Bike Fest.

Marlowe follows up with another Facebook post, insulting the festival and encouraging event goers to attend the ZWCMA's Harvest Festival in Zephyrhills. Marlowe stated, "If beer, motorcycles, and more beer isn't your thing, there is a family friendly alternative in Zephyrhills this weekend." Marlowe removed both his statements due to backlash from the community.

I spoke with Marlow on Wednesday and ask what he had against the Bike Fest, and he said, "There's nothing wrong with bike fests. Don't misunderstand me, but it is designed for adults." He went on to say, "I voted to fund it to the tune of $12,000 dollars." Farrell says that's true but, "the city wanted to give $15,000 in-kind and Marlowe lowered it."

I asked Marlowe why he encouraged people to attend an event outside the New Port Richey city limits and he said, "Zephyrhills happens to be having a family day on Saturday – explicitly for families. If you've got small kids, it makes more sense than going to the Cotee River Bike Fest." In contrast to his social media posts, Marlowe says, "The Cotee River bike fest is going to be great. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but for the people who like motorcycles and like to get together and do all that stuff, it's going to be a great event for them."

Marlowe stood behind his remarks about festival organizers "strong-arming" businesses into sponsoring the event by stating, "It's wrong to demand local brick and mortar businesses to pay for a sponsorship to conduct business on their own property." But local business owners I spoke to say Marlowe doesn't speak for them.

Carl Mowry owns The Kangaroo on Main Street, and he couldn't disagree more with Marlowe's statements.

"I think Bike Fest is great for downtown and great for local businesses. It's actually one of the least hectic events New Port Richey hosts," says Mowry. He goes on to say, "If they are worried about problems, they need to look at Chasco Fiesta, we've had far worse problems during that event." Mowry was especially disappointed in Marlowe's efforts to push business out of New Port Richey. "To advertise something going on in another town on a weekend on your mayor's page is kind of treasonous. We pay the taxes in the city of New Port Richey, so we want to drive the revenue here, not to Zephyrhills."

Bourbon on Main (BOM) is probably one of the most iconic establishments in New Port Richey and the owners shared similar sentiments about Mayor Marlowe's remarks as other business owners. I spoke with Jason of BOM who tells me, "I think it's irresponsible of the mayor of a small town that's trying to establish themselves, to classify Bike Fest as a shady event." Jason says he tries to stay out of the local politics, but in this case Marlowe should be removed from office. Jason laughed when I informed him that Marlowe claimed businesses were being forced to donate to the event and said, "We also own Skinnies in Hudson and we donate to the event, and we have nothing to do with New Port Richey." Jason continues, "People are donating out of the goodness of their heart. It's ridiculous to say we were being forced to sponsor the event."

Carman Passarella owns Village Pub and Jilly's on Main and he echoes the opinions of other business owners regarding Bike Fest and the Mayor's comments. "No one has ever mandated donations and the Farrells have never said a bad word about anyone who didn't want to donate," says Passarella. Regarding the issue of Marlowe's comments about Bike Fest Passarella says, "When the Mayor of one city is telling you to go to another city, I mean come on! As far as the event being family friendly, look at Chasco. It's become like a Mardi Gras." Passarella continues, "Bike Fest is not a Hell's Angel's rally, I mean there are more professionals on bikes, and we've never had an issue with the event." Passarella says the mayor has been stuck in a "Mayberry atmosphere" and that it he's looking at it the wrong way.

Most of the business owners I spoke with say the City Council has done a great job and been very proactive in helping businesses in the community. But when it comes to the mayor, they believe he's given up on caring about what's best for the city.

Organizers of the event and local business owners are seeking the advice of legal counsel to see what options they have in bringing sanctions against Marlowe for his derogatory comments. They've also established a petition, calling for Marlowe to be removed from office. Marlowe has served the maximum terms in New Port Richey, but business owners say his actions are so egregious, they want the history books to reflect that he was recalled.

Farrell Cares founder Stephen Farrell says the event is a family event and welcomes everyone to come have a good time.

The Cotee River Bike Fest runs from this evening until Sunday the 9th and will have lots of entertainment, motorcycles, food, and yes, beer.



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