Will anything change with Ironman?

The Ironman triathlon will be returning to Lake Placid at least through 2024.

Enterprise Staff Writer Lauren Yates broke the story on Friday after several days of research and speaking with sources.

Much like the triathlon’s swim course, it seems that after a lot of work — by elected officials, by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism and by a task force created for the purpose of mitigating what many in the community see as negative impacts of the triathlon — we’ve swum in a loop, right back to where we started.

Around a year ago, when the contract between Ironman, ROOST, the town of North Elba and the village of Lake Placid was up for renewal, it wasn’t clear whether the contract would be extended.

ROOST hosted a virtual meeting to gather feedback from the community. ROOST CEO Jim McKenna said at the time that Ironman officials wanted to know whether the contract would be renewed by that year’s race — just a few days later. But he said ROOST, North Elba and Lake Placid are “under no obligation to make a decision that quickly.” And yet, days later, Ironman Lake Placid 2022 was greenlit — seemingly without a formal written contract being signed at all, and without a formal vote by the town and village boards in a public meeting. According to ROOST, there was a “verbal” agreement.

Why the rush? It probably had a lot to do with money and maintaining relationships. At the end of every Ironman triathlon, athletes are given the option of signing up for the next year’s race. Registration for Ironman Lake Placid 2022 opened on Monday, July 26, 2021, three days after local officials announced that the contract had been extended for one year. Local officials likely wanted to stay in Ironman’s good graces. Ironman draws thousands of athletes, staff and spectators to this area every year — an economic impact estimated in the many millions of dollars, according to ROOST — and the corporation does typically give back between $40,000 to $50,000 per year to local nonprofits.

Mayor Art Devlin said last year that the one-year contract extension would give them time to “look at how events and residents can coexist in harmony,” consider public feedback and review the then-unfinished Lake Placid and North Elba Destination Management Plan, among other things. On the day Ironman’s 2022 return was announced, ROOST also announced it would create of a new Ironman Task Force to “address issues surrounding the event while looking for ways to improve community benefits.”

One year later, and that Ironman Task Force has laid out its recommendations. A survey of the community conducted by ROOST showed that people seem pretty evenly split between supporting and not supporting the race’s return here. The Lake Placid North Elba Destination Management Plan has been completed.

This year, the town and village boards did have a public vote to authorize the town supervisor and mayor to sign a contract with Ironman. That’s the right way to do things. But Ironman seemed to dictate the length of this contract. The town council authorized Supervisor Derek Doty to sign a three-year contract back in March, long before a contract was finalized, and the village board took a vote on Monday, just minutes after some of its members had read through the contract for the first time. Councilors and trustees elected to represent the people who live here deserve to know exactly what they’re voting on and deserve to have ample time to consider how to vote. The public also deserves to know what’s in the contract.

In public meetings, there has been talk about the Ironman Task Force’s recommendations, and it seems that local officials — as they should — have been pushing for Ironman to take those recommendations seriously.

In the new contract signed by ROOST, Ironman, the mayor and town supervisor this week, there is mention of the task force. It says the World Triathlon Corporation, the corporation behind Ironman, will make “reasonable best efforts to address and resolve any known recommendations regarding community relations from ROOST’s … Ironman Task Force.” But the contract also requires ROOST to “transition the Ironman Task Force to a general Events Council for ROOST for all large-scale regional events review.” So is a private corporation asking a largely taxpayer-funded marketing agency to change how it operates its own task force? Village Trustee Peter Holdereid, among others, was right to have questions about this.

The village, rightfully so, apparently spent quite a long time going back-and-forth over terms of the contract, which begs the question: Why, if some members had strong reservations, did they feel the need to follow Ironman’s desired timeline and vote in favor of authorizing the mayor to sign a three-year contract extension?

Here’s the bottom line: Ironman is lucky to have Lake Placid as a venue. Lake Placid is a two-time host of the Olympics with a legacy of athletic excellence that spans decades. It has world-class venues. On top of that, it’s got a community that highly values volunteerism and public service, and it’s a beautiful, scenic place, period. This place has immutable value. We believe that it’s long past time for concessions to be made on Ironman’s part that reflect that. Addressing the task force’s extremely fair recommendations is a good first step. After that, we believe the town, village and ROOST should continue to take a hard look at the Ironman contract. Lake Placid is giving a lot. Are we really getting enough in return?


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