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Oak Harbor budgets $50,000 to buy a marathon
The Whidbey Island Marathon is up for sale and the city of Oak Harbor is looking to buy— at a tentative price of $50,000.
The privately owned event hit the market about a year ago, according to founder John Kaiser.
“I’m retired and I’d like to take some time off and do some traveling,” he said Friday.
Since its beginning in April 2001, Kaiser said the Whidbey Island Marathon has grown to a size that requires exhaustive year-long planning for only one person. The race lured more than 1,600 runners to the island this year, many of whom rented rooms, bought meals and otherwise pumped up the economy.
In preparation for the possible purchase, the city formed a marathon advisory committee to follow the event over the last year in order to measure its potential as a healthy revenue source and continued tourist attraction.
The committee, made up of Scott Dudley, financial advisor and Oak Harbor City Council candidate; Jill Johnson, director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce; and Lt. John Dyer of the Oak Harbor Police Department, supports the council’s decision to work toward purchasing the Whidbey Island Marathon.
“The Marathon is great, it can be improved, and it can be much better. We are behind it whole-heartedly,” said Dudley, who has run 13 marathons in the past.
Councilman Jim Campbell remained wary of the purchase.
“It scares me that we’re putting an awful lot of citizens’ money into something that could go terribly wrong,” he said.
During the last two years, the marathon has hit a couple of bumps in the road, Mayor Jim Slowik pointed out at a meeting Thursday night. The marathon lead took the runners on the wrong route in 2008 and an incorrect route was sent out to runners for this year’s race.
Also, there was controversy when the finish line was moved from Coupeville to Oak Harbor.
The event could be funded with the use of hotel, motel tax-generated funds, general fund money, or a combination of both, according to Doug Merriman, city finance director.
“A properly run marathon generates enough participant revenues to be self supporting to a point where general fund costs are reimbursed completely,” he advised the council.
If he can’t sell the event, Kaiser said he plans to scale back. And that could mean a loss of revenue for the city in terms of 2 percent hotel, motel tax and sales tax receipts generated by marathon-drawn tourists.
“If the city doesn’t buy it I’ll probably only do the half marathon event,” he said. That most likely would draw fewer participants.
Kaiser did not attend Thursday’s special council meeting.
Brian Oster, an event manager with Pro-Motion Events Inc., who’s been involved with the marathon seven of its eight years, described Kaiser as a “large-hearted man who developed a love for running late in life.”
“He didn’t know anything about producing such an event, and that is where we came in,” he said.
According to Oster, running events such as the Whidbey Island Marathon continue to grow in popularity throughout the world.
A former sponsor, Nature’s Path, reportedly offered Kaiser $40,000 for the event two years ago, but Kaiser refused and countered with a $60,000 ultimatum.
“I worked too long and hard to let it go for that,” he said of Nature Path’s offer.
Kaiser said he’s tentatively OK with the agreed-upon price of $50,000 for the city of Oak Harbor, although he plans to remain involved in the event even if it’s sold.
“I think I have to be involved to a certain extent,” he said.
Following a question and answer session with Oster, Merriman and City Attorney Margery Hite, the City Council authorized Mayor Jim Slowik to purchase the Whidbey Island Marathon and Half Marathon from Kaiser if he’s willing to sell for $50,000. According to Kaiser, the city must decide by Aug. 15.
Campbell joined the yes vote, along with Beth Munns, Danny Paggao, Bob Severns and Jim Palmer. Absent were Eric Gerber and Rick Almberg.