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St. George Explores Using Contractor To Operate Marathon

The winner of a marathon crosses the finish line and breaks the ribbon.
Courtesy of the City of St. George
With 2,600 feet of downhill, the St. George Marathon is regarded as one of the fastest marathon courses in the country.

St. GEORGE — This city has managed its namesake marathon for the past four decades. But now, for the first time, officials here are asking whether a private contractor may be a better way to go.

City officials announced late last week that they are seeking proposals from companies looking to take over the production and management of the weekend-long event, which is held the first Saturday in October. The city made clear, however, that it would still retain ownership of the marathon if it brought in outside help. 

The race is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and, as one of the city’s biggest events, attracts over 10,000 people to St. George every year. 

Historically, the city has relied on about 100 of its own staff and over 1,000 volunteers to pull off the event. But according to art and events director Michelle Graves, the City Council recently told her department to explore whether it would be more fiscally responsible to use a private sector vendor.

Most big events like this marathon are privatized,” she said. “And we understand the importance to the community of putting this event on, but it takes time and resources.”

If the city chooses to bring in a private sector partner for the marathon, it would be following in the footsteps of many races across the country, said Rich Harshbarger, the CEO of national distance running trade group Running USA.

“This is fairly standard and typical,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to hire an outside contractor with operations and management expertise.”

The window for contractors to submit proposals closes on Feb. 10. The city will make its decision before marathon registration opens on April 1.

Graves noted that the event will also feature a half-marathon race this year for the first time. 

It’s part of a strategy to increase turnout that is aligned with the marathon’s family-friendly focus, she said.

“We get more families here than most race events,” she said. “We’re really proud of that since St. George is such a good family town.”

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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