The marathon is back. Or will be, next year.
After Life Time Fitness said this summer it would no longer operate the Eau Palm Beach Marathon & Run Fest, the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches has exercised a contract clause to regain rights to the race, at a nominal cost. The chamber plans to assign a local operator to run it, Chamber CEO Dennis Grady said this week.
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At times during its 12-year run, the event drew as many as 7,000 participants. Last year it was down to 3,700.
Life Time — which said it was leaving to focus on its much larger Miami Marathon — didn’t have a strong enough connections with the local community to get traction in West Palm Beach, Grady said. The event requires the ability to sell to local and national sponsors and to attract participation of local operators and other supporters, he said. “You can’t run this by absentee ownership.”
The chamber had that local strength when it ran the event for a half-dozen years starting in 2004, he said.
“We feel confident it will return to those numbers and exceed those rather quickly,” Grady said.
It’s too late to organize a marathon for this year but as a place-holder the Chamber plans a 5-kilometer run this year, in conjunction with the lighting of the downtown Christmas tree.
“We’ll be full-bore for the return of the Marathon of the Palm Beaches to its glory days, the first weekend of December 2017,” he said.
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The Chamber expects to announce a local operator for the 2017 race soon, he said.
The Chamber sold the race in 2010 to Chicago-based Devine Racing, a company that had been taken to court “at least four dozen times” by business and individual plaintiffs, according to a 2009 article in The Salt Lake Tribune. The Internal Revenue Service filed liens against Devine Racing, owner Chris Devine and his radio station businesses.
By the time Devine assembled his West Palm Beach team, it had only 61 days to prepare for the 2011 race. The event drew concern from some runners because of its 6:45 a.m. start; for many, the finish of the full marathon would come close to noon, when conditions would be much hotter. In all, 2,701 people crossed a finish line that year, compared with an estimated 7,200 participants the year before.
Devine sold the marathon for an undisclosed amount to U.S. Road Sports, which ran the 2012 and 2013 events. Then in January 2014, Life Time bought out U.S. Road Sports.
Life Time ran the 2014 and 2015 events without incident. But the company notified the chamber this summer that it would not do the event in 2016.
Amy Williams, a spokesperson for Life Time, said Thursday the company had a full portfolio of races and chose to leave Palm Beach to focus on Miami’s marathon — an event that draws more than 25,000 participants a year.
The chamber “could put more into it than what we have been able to do,” she said, agreeing with Grady that local connections are essential. “Having a local team could provide the local heart to grow it to its full potential.”