City Approves Ironman Race, Putting Tall Building On Ballot
By Beth Milligan | Aug. 7, 2018
Traverse City is set to become the second city in the state of Michigan to host an annual Ironman 70.3 triathlon race after city commissioners approved the event Monday.
Commissioners voted unanimously 6-0 (with Commissioner Brian Haas absent) to execute an agreement with Ironman parent company World Triathlon Corporation and Traverse City Tourism for the use of city facilities to host a 70.3 Ironman Competition in 2019 and 2020. The first event will take place Sunday, August 25, 2019 and include a 1.2-mile swim in West Grand Traverse Bay, a 56-mile bike ride on Leelanau Peninsula, and a 13.1-mile run (half-marathon) on Old Mission Peninsula. The event is expected to draw 2,400 athletes and have a local economic impact of $4.5-$6 million, with each race participant averaging a household income of $247,000 and bringing approximately 2.5-3 guests with them during a race weekend.
City Clerk Benjamin Marentette told commissioners that Ironman “started out with requesting a five-year agreement” but eventually agreed to a two-year agreement with the city. “The reason why they need (at least) a two-year agreement is it requires a significant investment on their part to build out an event of this magnitude,” Marentette explained. He noted the agreement would still require multiple reviews by city staff of the event going forward, allowing the city to work closely with organizers on fine-tuning race details. Marentette also said the agreement contained “safety valves” that would allow the city to cancel the race if safety or other planning concerns arose, though he believed that scenario was unlikely because “Ironman has a stellar reputation for conducting events all over the globe.”
Traverse City Manager Marty Colburn echoed Marentette’s positive comments about Ironman to commissioners, noting race organizers “have a lot of history in terms of putting on very significant events throughout the world, not just the U.S.” Colburn said hosting a 70.3 race in Traverse City – the only Michigan community besides Benton Harbor that will have a Half Ironman – would help promote “activities that are healthful and physical and basically a clean living approach” and counter-balance the drinking-based reputation Traverse City has cultivated in recent years.
“(The race) does certainly place some demands on the city,” Colburn acknowledged, “(but) on the other side of it, most of the public requests would be reimbursed by Traverse City Tourism.” Trevor Tkach of Traverse City Tourism confirmed the agency would help cover permitting and other city infrastructure costs for the race, such as police and fire services. “Knowing that Traverse City is deeply dedicated to conservation, preservation, sustainability, community involvement, outdoor activities, and healthy living, it seems to make good sense that we align with other brands that represent the same beliefs,” Tkach said.
City commissioners expressed support for the event, though some pressed Ironman Midwest Regional Director Frank Lowery about event logistics and how the race would impact the community during the event weekend. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Traverse City, but I do have to be mindful of other uses and other people in our town,” said Mayor Jim Carruthers. He asked Lowery if the swim portion of the race – proposed to go from Clinch Park Beach to West End Beach, requiring the complete closure of Clinch Marina to all marine traffic from 5am until 10am on race day – could be moved to run along the West End Beach shoreline instead. Carruthers noted the marina was a key "asset" of Traverse City's and that the marina was heavily used by paying customers on summer weekends. Lowery said that course routes could still potentially be adjusted to accommodate suggestions like Carruthers’, though he said the race course as proposed has been designed to maximize spectator access.
“We understand that our events are very impactful,” Lowery said. “We understand that they take time to set up and break down. But at the same time, we want to build a long-term partnership. We want to give back to the community.” Commissioner Richard Lewis pointed out that any type of significant cultural events in Traverse City would necessarily have some impacts attached. “You can’t have an event like this, or a Cherry Festival, or a Film Festival…that you’re not going to have some level of impact, no matter what we do,” he said. “What we hope is that in the big picture of things they’re events that help bring the community together (and) help us to promote our community in new ways.”
Other commissioners echoed the comments shared by a packed audience of race supporters who enthused about Ironman’s interest in coming to Traverse City. “This hits so many of the marks that we’ve been looking for for an event…it’s something that we haven’t seen presented to us before, and I don’t know that we’ll see it from an organization quite as world-renowned,” said Commissioner Amy Shamroe. “I know a lot of people who would be very excited about participating in it locally.”
Commissioner Michele Howard said she had personally completed two Ironman 70.3 races and that “some of the proudest moments of my life were crossing those finish lines.” She pointed out that race participants often come into host cities days in advance to scout the competition courses, bringing additional economic impact to the community beyond race day. “I think even just to have our name on that list (of Ironman race sites) would provide Traverse City an opportunity to be seen by people who would never look at (it otherwise),” she said.
Also at Monday’s city commission meeting...
Traverse City commissioners approved ballot language that will place a proposed 100-foot building on State Street on the November 6 ballot for public approval. Developer Tom McIntyre is seeking a green light to build his proposed Peninsula Place project next to the Park Place Hotel. Under city charter amendment Proposal 3, residents must approve any buildings over 60 feet tall through a public vote. With commissioners' approval of the ballot language, McIntyre’s building will now be the first project to go through a public election process since Proposal 3 was passed in 2016.