87 teams will compete

Some Penticton event organizers are celebrating the possible return of Ironman, but hope city councillors don’t let it “suck the oxygen from the room.”

Don Mulhall, the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival race director, said he’s always been a supporter of the triathlon.

“Since I’ve lived in this town, I’ve been a volunteer for Ironman. It was kind of a thing I did with my family,” he said.

But with a potential gross cost of $663,000 to taxpayers to host Ironman – with $299,000 of that being cash – Mulhall hopes the city won’t empty its pockets on one event.

“My concern going forward is the amount of (money) that the Ironman is going to take out of the city’s budget. Is that going to mean I’m not going to get any support from the city going forward?” he said.

“They provide us with an in-kind services grant that allows us to have a paddle room for the 400-plus paddlers in our community over the winter, and they provide us … with the rental of an office space so I can manage the event,” said Mulhall.

And Mulhall hasn’t asked for any cash donations in the last several years to avoid putting any pressure on the city, already faced with donation requests from many other local organizations.

“The city does support a lot of events,” he said. “We’re talking everything in the city – the art gallery, the SS Sicamous, the multi-cultural society.”

The Dragon Boat Festival, said Mulhall, pulls in approximately 2,000 athletes for the two-day event in September, Penticton’s shoulder season for tourism. Four years ago, the local event had a $2.3-million economic impact for the area, and that was after capping the number of teams at 80.

Jeff Plant, the event director of the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan, said while he believes Ironman won’t have a negative effect on his event, he too hopes the city won’t forget about other sports tourism draws.

“I’m more concerned that the existing events continue to receive the support that they’ve received,” he said. “And that Ironman doesn’t suck all the oxygen from the room, and that there’s still something left for the other events on the calendar.”

By helping events smaller than Ironman, said Plant, the economic impact will continue to grow.

Into its ninth year, the granfondo now averages about 2,500 athletes annually, said Plant.

City staff has worked out the broad strokes of a five-year deal that would see Ironman return in 2020, but is awaiting permission from council to negotiate a final agreement.

Council is set to discuss the matter at its meeting tonight, which begins at 6 at City Hall and is open to the public.

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