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City officials celebrate economic impact of Rock 'n' Roll St. Pete Half Marathon

ST. PETERSBURG — The news conference formally announcing the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll St. Pete Half Marathon had the vibe of a hip summer party.

With a rock band playing in the background, a few dozen area leaders flocked to the top of the Pier on Tuesday morning to hear Mayor Bill Foster and executives from race organizer Competitor Group Inc. hype the race.

Organizers say the Feb. 12 event, approved nearly two weeks ago by the City Council, could generate as much as $12 million for the area and fill 10,000 hotel rooms. About 12,000 to 15,000 runners are projected to participate.

"It's an incredible opportunity," Foster said. "It's a lot of heads and beds. We're very excited."

The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission agreed to spend $100,000 for marketing while the city pledged $30,000 in services such as police, trash pickup and barricades.

In the past few years, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series has cultivated a reputation as one of the hottest marathon events. Held in several cities around the country, races feature a live band every mile along the course and a festival at the finish line.

"It's a 13.1-mile block party," said spokesman Dan Cruz.

Company officials made sure to infuse the news conference with that rock 'n' roll feeling.

Local three-man rock band Gates of Eden played a mix of original music and covers as officials milled about. The company flew in Olympic marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter, one of the founders of the event.

"I can tell you, you're going to have no buyer's remorse here," the 63-year-old told the crowd.

Some local race organizers still have their doubts.

Chris Lauber, who organizes several half-marathons in Pinellas County, said he has a race scheduled in Clearwater three weeks before the Rock 'n' Roll race. He fears the larger event will overshadow his.

"It's like Walmart coming to town," he said. "It's a little bit disturbing to say the least."

Dawna Stone, who runs St. Petersburg's Women's Half Marathon in November, said she feels slighted that an out-of-town company received monetary assistance at a time when local organizers have been turned down.

She said the race will be good for the city but doesn't want it moved any closer to her event.

"I really feel like the local market can bear another half marathon," said Susan Harmeling, an organizer with the annual Publix Super Markets Gasparilla Distance Classic Race Weekend, scheduled for March 3 and 4. "I'm comfortable with it. I wish it could be further away from Gasparilla, but it won't be, so we all have to deal with it."

Still, Harmeling said, sponsorship revenue is not infinite and is hard to generate.

"Somebody comes riding into town on their white horse claiming to bring in $12 million in economic dollars, but that money is coming from somewhere else locally," she said.

Officials say the chance to get national exposure through the race is a worthy investment.

"The goal is for everybody to benefit," Competitor Group president Scott Dickey said.

"All this event does is invigorate the local market," he said.

Runners can begin registering for the Rock 'n' Roll race Monday at competitor.com.

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

City officials celebrate economic impact of Rock 'n' Roll St. Pete Half Marathon 05/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 10:39pm]
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