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Rock 'n' Roll half marathon heading to St. Petersburg in 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — In the world of marathon running, it doesn't get much bigger than the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series.

A live band jams at every mile along the course, with a festival waiting at the finish line, along with a major headline act.

"It's probably the hottest commodity when it comes to running events," said Joe Zeoli, St. Petersburg's managing director of administration and finance.

But on Thursday, it felt more like an obstacle course for the race organizer, Competitor Group Inc., as it sought approval from the City Council.

After about two hours of discussion, the council voted 7-1 to allow a 13.1-mile half marathon race on Feb. 12.

The city agreed to provide $30,000 in services like police, trash pickup and barricades.

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission will spend $100,000 to promote the race, taking out ads in national running magazines, for example.

The city also asked the Tampa Bay Rays to allow the race to hold a health and fitness expo at Tropicana Field for free. That was valued at $60,000.

The chief hurdle to making St. Petersburg the 20th city in the nation to host the race series was objections from local race organizers. They objected to the financial assistance Competitor Group is getting, as well as how close the race is to existing half marathons in the area.

"It'll put me out of business," said Chris Lauber, who organizes a half marathon in Clearwater that is scheduled three weeks before the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. "It sticks in my craw that my tax dollars are going to a for-profit company from outside the area that will put me out of business."

Organizers of the Women's Half Marathon, St. Petersburg, which drew 6,500 runners in November, said they haven't received the type of support that San Diego-based Competitor Group got, and feel outgunned.

"(Competitor Group) is the 800-pound gorilla" in the racing world, said Matt Deiter, who, along with his wife, Dawna Stone, has overseen the St. Petersburg race since 2009.

"What I'm not fine with is the city is providing them services that we don't get," Stone said.

Mayor Bill Foster said Competitor Group is such a big player, drawing so many people from around the country, that its economic impact could be as much as $12 million.

"For an investment of $30,000, we could have a $12 million return," Foster said. "I don't know why we're still talking about it."

But council members like Herb Polson, who ended up being the sole dissenter, said it was bothersome that a company outside of St. Petersburg was getting help.

"We're overlooking our local citizens for an out-of-town group," Polson said. "We are overlooking those folks who put their blood, sweat and tears in this and aren't getting their due. I think that's bad public policy."

Foster said the race was brought to him by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission.

Its director, Kevin Smith, said the event was too big too pass up.

"This is a tier-one event, which typically go to cities like Washington, Dallas, San Diego, Seattle and Nashville," Smith said. "Make no doubt about it, this will go to another city if we don't do this."

Smith said that he will meet with Stone and Deiter next week to see if they, too, could get assistance. Foster said if the council wanted to give the November race some assistance, it could do so.

The city's agreement with the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon includes two one-year renewal options. The race started in 1998 and has since expanded to 19 other cities, including Miami Beach.

Zeoli said they expect 10,000 participants next year, with about 50 percent of those anticipated to be from out of town.

"The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon has a marketing reach far beyond what the Women's Half Marathon has available," he said. "That's the value, and why it's so critical we get the race for 2012."

Rock 'n' Roll half marathon heading to St. Petersburg in 2012 05/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 3:38pm]
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