Oak Harbor wins with marathon

There were skeptics aplenty when the city of Oak Harbor announced it was purchasing the Whidbey Island Marathon last year, but now that the race is complete critics are few and far between.

Mayor Jim Slowik showed some chutzpah in leading the charge to purchase the rights to the marathon. After several successful years, the previous owner decided to move on to something else because of the time and effort involved. Slowik, not wanting to lose all the business the marathon participants provided, stepped in and persuaded the City Council to put up $50,000 to keep the marathon alive.

Last weekend, more than 1,800 participants in the marathon, half-marathon and 5-kilometer fun run filled the town’s inns to capacity, kept servers hopping in the restaurants and spent money all over town for gas, gear and mementos.

The city’s involvement in keeping a private enterprise alive was unusual, but just another sign of the times. If the federal government can keep General Motors and AIG from going down, why can’t Oak Harbor save its marathon? It looks like the feds will eventually make money with many of its big bailouts, and Oak Harbor did the same with its little marathon. Without it, April 10-11 would have been just another chilly, blustery early spring weekend in Oak Harbor with nothing special going on. Instead, many businesses prospered, thousands of people enjoyed themselves and many will return for future marathons or just to enjoy a stay on our beautiful island.

The dollars and cents of the event haven’t been officially figured yet, but it’s a sure thing that the city’s money was well spent. Entry fees covered a significant part of the costs and sales and room taxes boosted the city’s coffers. Buying the marathon was a gamble, but it paid off handsomely for the mayor and others in city government who made it a success.

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