Organizers and business owners hope to make downtown Baker City a focal point for the annual Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally in June.
More of a focal point, actually.
Main Street has been a popular gathering spot for riders and spectators every year since the rally, which brings an estimated 5,000 motorcyclists to Baker City, started seven years ago.
For several years a section of Main Street was closed to traffic (except, of course, motorcycles) during a portion of the weekend rally.
But for the past two years, Steve and Eric Folkestad, the brothers who started the rally, chose not to ask the Oregon Department of Transportation for permission to close Main Street.
ODOT is involved because Main Street is, officially, part of Highway 30.
(Valley, Court and Washington avenues were closed between First and Main streets during the 2010 and 2011 events, to give vendors a place to set up their booths.)
The Folkestads decided not to seek a temporary closure of Main Street after the 2009 rally, when an intoxicated biker crashed into three parked motorcycles near a crowd of spectators.
No one was hurt in that incident.
This year, though, the Folkestads are working with Police Chief Wyn Lohner, Historic Baker City Inc. and others to set up a schedule that would close four blocks of Main Street (between Broadway and Auburn) from Friday morning through Sunday morning, allowing for a motorcycle show, vendors' booths and other events.
"Nothing's set in stone, but we're really pleased to be working with HBC to bring the motorcycle show and vendors back downtown," Steve Folkestad said on Tuesday.
ODOT officials have asked HBC to conduct a survey of Main Street business owners to gauge the level of support for closing the street, said Joshua DeCarl, who owns Baker City Cafe, at the southeast corner of Main and Court.
"I see a huge benefit" to closing Main Street during the rally, said DeCarl, who is chairman of HBC's Promotions Committee.
As with the past two rallies, Ride Center this year will be at The Sunridge.
Lohner said he has no problem with Main Street being closed during the rally.
"We just want to create the safest environment possible so people can enjoy the bikes," he said.
To that end, Lohner is working on a plan that would, among other things, require all motorcycles to enter the closed section of Main Street from the same point — Broadway Street.
In previous years riders would arrive from multiple directions, leading to helter-skelter situation among pedestrians, riders and vendors.
Steve Folkestad said he expects another large turnout of riders for this year's rally, scheduled June 8-11.
Almost 300 riders have already pre-registered, about 10 percent more than this time a year ago.
Registration numbers tell only part of the story, though.
For each rally, Folkestad said, the number of registered participants totals only about 25 percent of the total motorcyclists who show up.
"It's not like we have a turnstile, and we don't require registration," he said.
If the weather is sketchy — last year's event was hampered by rain and cool temperatures — Folkestad predicts about 5,000 motorcycles will congregate in Baker City.
But if the sun shines, the turnout could double, he said.
Weather is crucial because the rally's big draw is the riding, Folkestad said.
Baker County's network of twisty, scenic paved roads is ideal for hour-long or day-long tours.