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Fans of Gumball 3000, a rally across the U.S. that features celebrity drivers and exotic cars, line up along Hollywood Boulevard last year to catch a glimpse of the cars. Organizers plan to start the rally in Santa Monica and put on a free concert for fans. (photo by Photo Courtesy Gumball 3000)

DOWNTOWN — Producers of the world’s largest road trip are close to finalizing a deal with city officials that would make Santa Monica the starting point for the 3,000-mile journey to Miami.

While producers are still working out some of the details, they are certain that Gumball 3000 will kick-off in Santa Monica on May 1. The rally, which includes celebrity guests Tony Hawk, David Hasselhoff, Bam Margera of “Jackass” fame and British indie stars The Enemy, is expected to draw massive crowds and possibly generate much-needed revenue for City Hall and local businesses. Producers are planning a big bash for fans that will include a concert on or near the Santa Monica Pier, at which time auto enthusiasts can inspect the roughly 120 cars involved, ranging from a $5 million Bugatti racer to a Mini Cooper and a classic Cadillac.

For the event’s 10th anniversary last year producers closed off a section of Hollywood Boulevard for two days, drawing an estimated crowd of over 50,000, which pales in comparison to crowds in Europe, where Gumball 3000 is not only a rally, but a brand that includes a clothing line, shoes sold by Puma and a Sony Playstation video game, said Gumball 3000 founder and CEO, Maximillion Cooper, a former model and race car driver who believes Gumball can compete with the likes of Virgin and Red Bull in terms of branding.

“It’s a constant evolution, bit of the entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of hard work but it’s grown and grown really,” Copper said during an interview with the Daily Press last week following a meeting with city officials, representatives with the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp.

“We kind of feel like in most European countries we’ve become kind of a household brand name and now our task is to replicate that out here,” Copper added. “If five years from now everyone’s heard of Gumball that would be great … . That’s the target.”

The goal is to bring together people from various fields — automotive, sports, music — and celebrate the open road. Drivers will make pit stops in various locales, including Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, where producers plan to host parties for fans and the VIP drivers. The entire event will be broadcast live online and televised worldwide in over 100 countries, Cooper said.

Gumball is no “Cannonball Run.” It is not a race and all drivers are expected to follow posted speed limits.

“Everyone drives their own car over eight days and it’s a different party every night,” Cooper said. “We close off city centers and park the cars on display and do a kind of public festival in each city. That’s one element to it that’s for the cities and the public and another element that every night is kind of a VIP party, if you like, for the drivers.”

With any major event such as Gumball, there are plenty of details that need to be discussed. Cooper has been meeting over the past few months with representatives from City Hall, the pier and the CVB to come up with a plan that protects public safety, ensures adequate parking for visitors and does not interfere with local businesses. City Hall has a Event Management Team that works directly with producers to ensure the best possible outcome.

Santa Monica Fire Marshall Jim Glew is a member of the event team and said first and foremost organizers of large events must make sure they have adequate resources to deal with medical emergencies. That could mean hiring a private company to provide emergency medical technicians to care for minor injuries, with the fire department on hand for emergencies. Additional police officers may also have to be hired, which will be paid for by the producers of the event.

“We work very closely with our public safety partners … to make sure safeguards are put in place so our residents … are not negatively impacted by the event,” Glew said.

First responders will develop an action plan for Gumball so that every city department involved will know what to do in case of an emergency, Glew said. Public safety officials will be keeping a close eye on how the event is promoted to ensure that enough personnel are on duty.

“We learned volumes from [the outdoor arts festival] Glow and [the nomadic photography exhibit ]Ashes and Snow, and of course the return of Cirque [du Soleil] about the power of the Internet and texting and how that can drive attendance,” Glew said. “The city anticipated 50,000 people for Glow based on replies and that was nothing but an average Saturday night in the city. As we all know, we far exceeded that number.”

Last year there were over 400 events in the city, ranging from simple filming to large, commercial productions, Glew said.

A major concern of those involved in the negotiations has been parking and traffic flow, particularly around the pier. The scope of the Gumball festivities has also raised questions, which is why no location has been set. Cooper is trying to find a suitable spot, which could be the pier or the Third Street Promenade. It is Cooper’s plan to have all 120 cars lined up along Ocean Avenue for the start of the rally.

Alison Best with the CVB has been working with Cooper on the logistics. So far the one thing that is certain is that all drivers will be staying at the Viceroy Hotel.

“For the economy, this couldn’t have come at a better time,” Best said of Gumball, which has a large international following, translating into more visitors sleeping at hotels and dining at restaurants. “It’s hard to tell how many people will actually come out to see it. It depends on how Max promotes it over the next few weeks.”

Best said she just returned from a business trip to London and Germany and there is significant buzz about Gumball. The United Kingdom is Santa Monica’s leading international market for tourists.

“The coverage this destination gets from something like this is really important as far as driving visitors,” Best said.

The CVB is looking to partner with Gumball in promoting Santa Monica’s rich automotive history. The Santa Monica Visitor Center will be selling special edition, vintage-style T-shirts at three locations. The shirts feature graphics from original race pennants from Santa Monica road races that were held in the early 1900’s along Wilshire and San Vicente boulevards when they were dirt tracks.

“With all of the interest surrounding the end of Route 66, the 100th anniversary of the pier and the rich history of Santa Monica this year, we think these vintage-style T-shirts will be very popular,” said Kim Baker, marketing director for the CVB.

Proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts will go to the Santa Monica Historical Society to support their new museum, scheduled to open late 2009.

All parties are confident that issues can be resolved within the next few weeks.

“There are a lot of details that need to be confirmed, but everyone is working hard to do that,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pier Restoration Corp., which manages and maintains the pier. “The event team is a core group that has been working on a lot of events for a number of years and we’ve always been successful in finding some sort of resolution.”

kevinh@smdp.com

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