Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - “This is the Hawaii IRONMAN,” Dave Christen, IRONMAN regional director said, fully extending his arm above his head. He was looking out at the water from the Auke Rec picnic area. He lowered his arm an inch and said, “This is the Alaska IRONMAN in Juneau.” Then he lowered it well below his waist. “And this is all the rest,” he said.
Christen was visiting at the time with local dignitaries in April on a scouting mission for what he hopes is the next full IRONMAN Triathlon. A 2.4-mile open water swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.
The IRONMAN Group reached out to Travel Juneau in 2020 to explore hosting a race in Alaska’s capital city. Travel Juneau became the broker, so to speak, of the deal and brought the City and Borough of Juneau, the state Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, the University of Alaska Southeast and the National Guard, among other entities, into the conversations.
Including the Aukeman, a number of triathlons are held in Alaska but this would be the first IRONMAN-branded event in the state and it would be a qualifying event for the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii.
The negotiations resulted in the Juneau City Assembly being briefed at their regular meeting Monday by Parks & Recreation Director George Schaaf.
“It is not a done deal,” Christen said. “It is very close but it is not a done deal.”
The race course is not finalized but the initial discussions have the swim portion utilizing Auke Lake, the cycling course doing multiple laps from Auke Bay to Mile 37 and the running course using Mendenhall Loop Road, Glacier Highway, Montana Creek Road and the Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei (Brotherhood Bridge) Trail.
According to the brief presented to the Assembly, a number of road closures would be required for the running course, including Montana Creek Road and a section of Mendenhall Loop Road between Glacier Highway and Glacier Spur Road. No road closures are required for the cycling course. Dimond Park and/or UAS would likely serve as the start/finish area, transition zones and expo area.
The brief also states that the IRONMAN Group would provide all race staff and organize a large number of community volunteers. Organizations like Southeast Road Runners and Juneau Freewheelers have already expressed interest, and the National Guard may provide resources by using the event as a training exercise.
While the event is largely self-supported, IRONMAN Group requires the host community to make a significant commitment of funding and in-kind support, including a race fee to recover a portion of its costs to organize these events.
According to Travel Juneau President/CEO Liz Perry negotiations with IRONMAN resulted in a reduced race fee of $100,000 per year, assuming a three-year commitment. Recognizing the financial impact of COVID-19 to Juneau, IRONMAN Group offered to structure the fee as $50,000 for year one, and $125,000 for each of year’s two and three. Both parties also have the option, if the first year does not meet expectations, to walk away.
The Proposed date for the first event would be August 8, 2022 and similar dates for the subsequent years. Concerns about the IRONMAN clashing with the annual Juneau Aukeman dates were discussed last April but not resolved.
Perry said the contract will include cost recovery from the event and revenue sharing.
“It depends on what their total net sales are, you know, after the event,” Perry said. “So they have some of their own vendors, some of their own sponsors that will come in and do some retail. It will depend on the number of registrations they get. So it will be basically a portion of the total revenue after everything is folded up and all of the bills are paid.”
Perry said after IRONMAN covers their own taxes, fees and bills then 20% of the net would go to Travel Juneau.
The CBJ will not be part of the revenue share because Travel Juneau is signing the contract with IRONMAN Group.
“The city's not going to get a revenue share,” Perry said. “Because Travel Juneau, the convention Visitors Bureau is signing the contract with Iron Man Group. The city did not want to sign that because of the liability and indemnity.”
Perry said the city will be making sure that some police officers are available, that CCFR is available, permitting is taken care of and smoothed out, access is available to facilities such as Diamond Park and Brotherhood Bridge Trail. The extra personnel comes out of the city pocket.
“The city promises to have a certain number of policemen,” Perry said. “And so right now what it looks like is that they're going to put maybe two patrolmen in cars and have them available during the entire event. And there will be an ambulance available for service with the understanding that either or both police or CCFR can be pulled off in the case of an emergency somewhere else in town. So we don't have exclusive access to those folks.”
The city would also be responsible for monitoring trash pickup and public bathrooms, if any, at any city owned facility or park used for the event.
IRONMAN is responsible for fully staffing the event.
“They're bringing their staff and they're hauling all of their own equipment in,” Perry said. “They are providing some level of their own security. They are managing the event handling all of their registrations. We will provide a few volunteers to help with check in, but that is their responsibility. They're handling all of their own internal communications and outward facing communications. Ahead of the event we will cross promote the events through Travel Juneau channels and through IRONMAN channels during the course of the year.”
Perry said that getting information to the Assembly is a huge step.
“We’ve got a lot of really good buzz out in town,” Perry said. “But this makes it a little bit more public that we’re taking this step. The next big step will be for Travel Juneau to sign the contract with the IRONMAN Group and to sign a memorandum of understanding with the CBJ. So we’re clear about the host responsibilities and what CBJ is responsible for as well as what Travel Juneau is responsible for.”
Perry said the contract itself needs to be finalized. Some issues needing to be addressed include the cost to Travel Juneau for additional security and partner’s logistical purposes, and the inkind cost for the permitting that the city will pick up.
“We’re very very close to that,” she said. “I think those are nuts and bolts that even post signing the contract we can continue to work on.”
The IRONMAN Group was asked if they were concerned about Juneau’s limited infrastructure to support an event of this nature.
“It’s absolutely something that we're aware of,” Christen said. “I wouldn't say it's concerning, again, our partners at Travel Juneau and at the city and the region and the travel partners, the experts, are helping us understand what the limits are. Which is why I can't answer the question of what the field size would be because we're still working through that with the experts. We intend to build an event that fits Juneau, not an event that fits us. That's really our objective.”
The Assembly briefing noted that the Juneau Police Department and Capital City Fire/Rescue would respond to any emergencies during the triathlon but there is no expectation or requirement to staff the event or provide standby personnel. Similarly, Public Works would not be expected to provide any services above normal operations (i.e. street cleaning and repair). IRONMAN Group would be responsible for all event logistics, such as traffic control, security, first aid, sanitation, waste disposal, and communications.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 and travel restrictions in 2020, IRONMAN was asked what safety protocols they would implement for their event, if it goes forward.
“We are a self-sustaining event production company,” Christen said. “So we build our safety plans and all of our plans with local health authorities and with local experts that are inside the community, inside the region, inside the state. And that's how we build our plans in collaboration with them. But we do this all over the world and we have scalable abilities to create all different types of safety plans and safety levels.”
The Assembly briefing noted that IRONMAN Group has asked CBJ to provide non-exclusive use of municipal lands and facilities during the event. These include Auke Lake, Auke Lake Trail, Auke Lake Wayside (including the parking lot and boat ramp), Dimond Park Field House, Dimond Park Fields 1-4, Dimond Park Concession stand & Restrooms, Dimond Park parking lots (except Dimond Park Aquatic Center and Mendenhall Valley Public Library), Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei (Brotherhood Bridge) Trail and the trailheads and parking lots at River Road and Glacier Highway, and Montana Creek Road.
IRONMAN Group is also requesting that CBJ waive fees for use of these lands and facilities, as well as commercial use permit fees. The briefing states these fees are minimal, and that it is unlikely the proposed use would displace a significant amount of earned revenue for the Parks & Recreation Department. There would be operational impacts to the public, such as relocating adult softball games from Dimond Park and temporary trail closures on race day.
IRONMAN is also asking for logistical help.
“We're asking for help managing some of the logistics,” Christen said. “We’re trying to figure out transport to and from Juneau for the athletes and trying to figure out some of the other details around the event, things that we can partner on with the city to do.”
Christen noted help would be needed to bring athletes from outside Juneau, the state, and internationally and include the Alaska Marine Highway, Alaska Airlines and other commercial airlines, Uncruise and private charters, to name a few entities.
“They're opening doors for us to talk with transportation partners,” Christen said. “So Travel Juneau has been helpful in creating the open doors and the open channels to have the discussions with the transport partners.”
Travel Juneau’s Perry said they are working with all of their transportation providers.
“Airlines, AMHS, all of those people to ensure that we can get people here on time and get them out when they need to be out,” she said. “The other piece is the infrastructure for hotel rooms.”
Perry said they are working with hoteliers and would be blocking out a large portion of rooms without naming the event.
“Travel Juneau is primarily the broker for all of this,” Perry said. “We open doors, we give them referrals, we tell them who they need to talk to. Part of our responsibility was to pull all of the major stakeholders together.”
That included the site visit in April in which Christen met with city officials and UAS officials and toured Juneau.
“Letting them know who they need to talk to is a lot of our responsibility,” Perry said. “And then as we approach the event ensuring that all of their boxes are checked in terms of transportation, just making sure that we do have the airlift, we've got the ferry system lined up, we've got hotels lined up, all of our restaurants know what's going on so they're geared up… so that no one is surprised by the event. We're also in charge of making sure that the entire community has proper communications over the next year. We will be in charge of making sure that all of the folks who live out the road understand that this event is taking place between certain hours on that Sunday, and to please if possible limit they're pulling in pulling out of their driveways for a few hours, those kinds of things. So we would be front and center with those kinds of community communications. And then if IRONMAN needs assistance with something we open doors for them and give them referrals to get something done for logistics or security or whatever it is that they need.”
Christen said the mutual hope of all parties involved is to hold the first IRONMAN in 2022 but there is no specific date for an agreement to be signed by.
“We produce events in very short time frames, and we produce events with very long lead times,” he said. “It's very different. We're very agile so we can ramp things up quickly, or we can take quite a bit of time. It just depends on what the market needs.”
The event could bring up to 1,500 athletes to Juneau along with thousands of friends, family, and support staff.
Christen said the race fee for an athlete to enter has not been determined yet. A typical Kona Hawaii Ironman entry fee is $1,200 and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho runs about $750.
According to Travel Juneau, each IRONMAN race would generate an estimated $7 million to $9 million of economic activity in the community, as well as $35,000 in Hotel Bed Tax revenue.
Perry said Travel Juneau has a lot of responsibilities in the partnership.
“We need to open doors to IRONMAN Group to find, for example, statewide or regional sponsorships and local sponsorships that they have to approve,” Perry said. “We are kind of the lynchpin in finding, helping locate volunteers, ensuring that the logistics are all taken care of. This will be a full court press for my small staff, and hundreds of volunteers. So Travel Juneau is helping IRONMAN identify a lot of these pieces and making sure that everything is in place for the event and leading up to the event. It's just a huge number of moving parts.”
Christen said IRONMAN would bring upwards of six semi trucks worth of equipment on barges through Alaska Freight Lines.
“Signage and the things that make an Iron Man look exciting,” he said. “Our finish line, our medical equipment, our communications equipment, our course signage, course marking equipment. There's lots of stuff that we move around the country with.”
Some intangibles are already being sourced, such as portable toilets and traffic cones.
“You probably have more than you think,” Christen said. “It come up quite a bit. We've done some vetting already with some of our suppliers. But as truly a bonafide logistics company that we are, we've already made plans to, if we're successful in creating a relationship with Juneau, we've already made plans on how we would supply the events from either inside the community or from external sources like from Seattle, you know, Alaska freight lines or from the other communities inside of Alaska.”
The IRONMAN Group also manages the IRONMAN brand through various vendor sales and partner venders. IRONMAN operates more than 170 races and festivals around the world each year.
There are currently 45 IRONMAN race locations in the United States, including smaller communities like Chattanooga, Tenn., Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Maple Valley, Wash. The IRONMAN Group was acquired in 2020 by Advance, a private family-owned business based in New York.
Christen was asked “Why Juneau?”
“It's a beautiful place,” he said. “The state capital of one of the coolest states in the union. It's just a great place and a great host and Travel Juneau, honestly, is to credit for this type of discussion. They're the ones that have really been the champion.”