Oak Harbor may sell Whidbey Island Marathon to a nonprofit

For the right price, and with a few conditions, the Whidbey Island Marathon could be for sale.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley confirmed Wednesday that he not only would consider selling the city’s marathon, but that he’s already gotten a nibble from a Central Whidbey-based nonprofit group and that a meeting with organization leaders will take place later this month.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the particulars of the marathon and whether or not the group might be interested in buying the event outright or simply running it for the city.

“We’ll sit down with them and explain everything that goes into running the marathon and see if they flinch,” Dudley said.

Elected  last November, Oak Harbor’s new mayor has believed for some time that the city should shed itself of the annual event, which it purchased from race founder John Kaiser in 2009 for $50,000.

Although a race coordinator is contracted to do much of the work, city employees also assist in putting on the marathon and the job takes away from their primary duties, Dudley said.

Also, the event might be more successful if were to be run by a non-profit group as many marathon runners are selective about the races they participate in because they want the proceeds to go to a good cause.

Dudley said such an organization might be able to leverage additional volunteers as well, which could widen the profit margin for the group.

Ironically, Dudley was instrumental in the effort to acquire the marathon. A city councilman at the time, he chaired a committee tasked with studying the possible purchase and the advisory group ultimately recommended the city move ahead.

However, Dudley argues that his vision was never followed, that his support for the purchase was based on the condition that it would be run or operated by a non-profit. The city should not be in the marathon business, he said.

The group that may be interested in the event is the Whidbey General Hospital Foundation. Established in 1981, its mission is to support the hospital and community health endeavors through public awareness and the development and management of charitable resources, according to its website.

Executive Director Laura Blankenship said she had heard the city might be interested in letting the marathon go through the “Whidbey Island grapevine” and the prospect of a new fundraiser piqued her interest.

The foundation currently operates the annual Tour de Whidbey, a series of bicycle races that range from 100 to 10 miles in length. It’s the group’s major fundraiser but it was cancelled this year due largely to a hiring freeze at the hospital.

Blankenship emphasized that the foundation’s primary focus is to get the Tour de Whidbey up and running for 2013 and that there is no intention of doing away with it for good in place of a marathon.

The interest is having a second fundraiser, but at this point she said she has more questions than answers. Blankenship said she’s seen the budget and isn’t sure the event would be much of a money maker.

She also noted that it’s highly unlikely the foundation would buy the marathon, but that it might be interested in some kind of partnership where it ran the event for the city but kept the proceeds. Finding the answers to those questions is what the upcoming meeting is all about, she said.

“We’re really just curious,” Blankenship said.

As a public asset, it’s unlikely the city would be able to legally “gift” the marathon, even to a nonprofit group. Also, the decision is not up to Dudley but the Oak Harbor City Council.

Councilwoman Beth Munns said the marathon’s purchase was never meant to be permanent, that the primary reason for buying it was to preserve the race and create a tourism draw for the city.

“I’m not against selling it . . .  but I would want to make sure the quality and spirit were maintained,” Munns said.

Councilwoman Tara Hizon, who confirmed that she will attend the meeting with the foundation later this month, declined to comment on the matter.

Dudley said part of any deal to sell or partner with a non-profit group would be contingent on the condition that the marathon’s finish line remain in Oak Harbor. If sold, it would also likely have to through some type of formal bidding process.


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