Community

Oak Harbor lures runners to first city-run marathon

Coachman Inn Housekeeper Marilyn Childress and her colleagues will be extra busy during the Whidbey Island Marathon weekend, April 9-12, as will other Whidbey Island hotel managers and front desk clerks. Most Oak Harbor hotels, motels and inns are booked up, or near capacity.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Coachman Inn Housekeeper Marilyn Childress and her colleagues will be extra busy during the Whidbey Island Marathon weekend, April 9-12, as will other Whidbey Island hotel managers and front desk clerks. Most Oak Harbor hotels, motels and inns are booked up, or near capacity.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Thousands of runners will pound Oak Harbor’s pavement in a few weeks for the first ever city-owned marathon.

The city purchased the marathon for $50,000 last year, hoping its continuation would be good for business.

So far, the strategy seems to be working.

About 90 percent of the registered runners are traveling from off-island, said City Administrator Paul Schmidt.

Most participants live in Washington, but many others will travel across state borders and across the country to run the Whidbey Island Marathon, a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

Nearly all the available lodging in town is booked for the weekend event and Coupeville inns and B&Bs are also near capacity. The race takes place Sunday, April 11, but organizers hope visitors stay for several days.

Along with the runners will come family, friends and travel companions. City leaders see more dollar signs as they imagine these visitors filling up on gas, dining out and otherwise spending their time —and cash —in Oak Harbor.

Conservatively speaking, Schmidt said, the marathon planning team estimates that visiting runners will spend about $300,000 in the community on lodging, food and entertainment during their stay.

“We’re having an impact, I feel, on our local economy,” Schmidt said. “We’re using more of our local businesses than ever before.”

For example, this year’s 5k T-shirts were printed by Bayview Embroidery and Whidbey Island Gifts on Pioneer Way; Diamond Rentals is providing portable toilets; SeaTac Shuttle will ferry runners to the race start; Albertsons is furnishing post-race snacks; and Whidbey Coffee will keep runners and volunteers caffeinated.

Also, local sponsors Waste Management, Puget Sound Energy, Wal-Mart, 7-ll, Chugach Industries, Windemere Realty, Coldwell Banker and Flyers Restaurant and Brewery kicked-in to help support the event.

This event should be a significant economic driver, Schmidt said.

Controversy rattled City Hall last fall after the City Council authorized Mayor Jim Slowik to purchase the Whidbey Island Marathon for $50,000.

According to city officials, former event owner John Kaiser agreed to a four-installment annual payment plan, $13,000 each for the first two payments in 2010 and 2011, and then $12,000 each for the last two years, 2012 and 2013.

Nay-sayers questioned the event’s validity as a profit-producing event.

So far, the 2010 race looks like it’ll break even, if not come out on the plus side, said Schmidt.

The race’s fixed expenditures are $121,523. Race officials have secured $114,751 from registration payments and donations; another $21,850 is expected to come in by race day, Schmidt said.

Officials are already looking to next year’s race. Schmidt said planning for the 2011 Marathon will start in May.

“For next year we’re developing a database, line by line,” he said. “We’re getting this thing down to a science.”

Bob Smithson, race coordinator, said about 1,400 people are signed up for the event this year, about the same as this time last year. Race officials anticipate more athletes will sign up in the days running up to the event.

The event coordination was a team effort, Smithson said, giving kudos to Karen Crouch, Schmidt, Tamra Sipes, Eric Johnston, Rich Tyhuis and Lt. John Dyer.

“I think we’re in a really good spot,” he said when asked if the city is ready for this year’s marathon. “We’re ready to run a race.”

As for the long term, Smithson has confidence in Oak Harbor’s ability to host the marathon.

“Over time I think this will develop into a really nice destination event,” he said.

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