Weighing pros and cons

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Pursuing Ironman appears to be a no-brainer

Pursuing Ironman appears to be a no-brainer.

After all, who wouldn’t want to draw more than 2,700 high-performance athletes, plus their families, friends, race officials, media and triathlon enthusiasts?

Beyond Canadian participants, there are registrations from the U.S., Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

“Vernon would be positioned on the world stage,” tourism manager Michelle Jefferson told city council Monday.

In terms of dollars and cents, the impact on the local economy can range from $8 to $10 million annually based on Penticton’s experience over the last 30 years.

There are also expectations Ironman participants and fans will be so blown away by the North Okanagan’s lifestyle they will relocate and set up businesses.

“It supports our entire business community,” said Kim Flick, community development manager.

So with everything sounding so rosy, why is Vernon council not automatically sending a big package off to Ironman’s corporate office in Tampa?

Simple, you just don’t slap something together overnight.

Hosting a major international sports event is extremely complex and council must ensure that it’s not over-extending its resources and creating liabilities for taxpayers.

Among the expectations placed on the host community are up to 200 police officers — which Vernon doesn’t have — for traffic control and security. There is also a need for up to 100 licensed medical professionals. That may be a challenge when many locals can’t find a doctor.

All necessary municipal services are the responsibility of the host community — garbage collection, lifeguards, shuttle buses, parking staff, electricians, traffic control and public relations.

The city would also have to find anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 volunteers.

The owners of Ironman contacted the city Aug. 27 about possible hosting rights. The deadline to apply is Sept. 24, meaning the city was given a lead time of 19 working days.

“There’s a lack of time to do the request for proposals,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky.

The actual hard costs to the city aren’t determined, but a minimum of $400,000 a year over a five-year contract has been tossed around. It may not seem like much compared to a possible economic infusion of $8 million, but it’s still not chump change, particularly when the city’s main source for covering costs is taxes.

On top of this, Penticton severed its relationship with Ironman after 30 years.

“There had to have been some significant issues for them to go away from Ironman,” said Coun. Juliette Cunningham.

Were Penticton’s reasons legitimate? It’s hard to know, and because of that, it is prudent for Vernon council to be hesitant about any potential long-term agreement.

Also, Vernon’s Ironman could be held at the same time as a new event in Penticton. That would divide athletes, volunteers and sponsors and perhaps pit the two towns against each other.

“They’re asking Vernon to compete (with Penticton) and I’m not sure that’s a wise move,” Rick Jenkner, Interior Running Association president, told council Monday.

Ultimately, Ironman could provide terrific opportunities for the North Okanagan and given previous successful events, there’s no question the region is up to the task.

But because Vernon’s politicians must look at the broad picture and consider all implications, as well as opportunities, they must run a marathon before making a decision.

richard@vernonmorningstar.com