Ironman to return through 2024

Competitors start their Ironman Lake Placid triathlon in July 2019 with a 2.4-mile swim on Mirror Lake. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — The Ironman Lake Placid triathlon is set return to this village through at least 2024.

The Lake Placid Village Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously voted to support a three-year contract extension between the Ironman Group, the village board, the North Elba Town Council and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. The village board’s vote only acted as authorization for the mayor to sign a contract extension, but the contract has now been signed by all four of these groups.

This year will be the 23rd Ironman triathlon in this village. Though the new contract allows Ironman to return for two more years — through 2024 — it’s considered a three-year contract because it includes this year’s race. This year’s race was never formally signed off on before this contract was signed, according to village officials.

The board of trustees’ vote on Monday was called both “reluctant” and “contentious” by village officials despite the unanimous decision. Trustee Jason Leon — who also serves on the town council, and who voted against the contract extension earlier this year when the town council authorized town Supervisor Derek Doty to sign a three-year extension — wasn’t present for the village’s vote on Monday.

When the North Elba Town Council voted in near-unanimous support of a three-year contract extension back in March, Leon cast the lone vote against it. At the time, Leon raised the concern — amid broader discussion throughout the community about the pros and cons of hosting the race — that the town council would be agreeing to three more years of Ironman without seeing material changes to the race from the Ironman Group ahead of time.

Mayor Art Devlin said the village board didn’t vote on the contract earlier in the year because the board wanted to see changes made to the contract, and he said it was voted on less than a week ahead of the race so Ironman could register athletes for next year.

The Ironman course runs through the village of Lake Placid and the town of North Elba, as well as the towns of Wilmington, Keene and Jay. Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson, Jr. and Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer on Tuesday both said they hadn’t seen a new Ironman contract, though both supervisors expressed general support for the triathlon and highlighted the Ironman Group’s willingness to address the task force’s concerns and improve the race over the next few years. The town supervisor for Jay could not be reached by press time.

The contract

The final 24-page 2022-2024 Ironman contract obtained by the Enterprise outlines everything from a description of the triathlon course to details about the annual $90,000 payment — “marketing fees” — that ROOST will be required to pay Ironman’s overarching corporation, World Triathlon Corporation, or WTC; as well as advertising restrictions surrounding the triathlon, insurance information and a confidentiality clause that appears to restrict those who sign the contract from disclosing “directly or indirectly, any of the terms of this agreement” while the contract is in place and during a 36-month period afterward. The contract also appears to require the village, town, ROOST and the WTC to “provide reasonable advance written notice” to the other groups if one of them is required to disclose any “confidential information” in order to “comply with applicable law, regulations, court order or other legal process,” which could include Freedom of Information Law requests. The Enterprise submitted a FOIL request for the final contract on Wednesday, but the contract was ultimately handed over on Thursday without the need for a FOIL request.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the New York state Committee on Open Government, said that “no vendor that does business in the state of New York — or really any government agency — can have the expectation that its entire contract is going to remain in secret.”

The contract also requires that all signing parties mutually agree on the number of athletes that can register for the next year’s race within seven days of the prior year’s race, and it requires WTC to compensate New York State Police for their services during the race.

Ironman Task Force

The village board’s vote on Monday comes after months of work by a task force created in the summer of 2021 — which includes local officials, community members and business owners — to evaluate the economic and community impacts of the Ironman Lake Placid triathlon.

The task force discussed local issues related to the race and helped compile a community survey — sent out by ROOST this past fall — that found the community to be nearly evenly split on whether or not the triathlon should continue to be hosted here.

The task force in January identified five main changes to the 2022 race that they saw as deal breakers if they’re not implemented: establishing a point of contact for race day, a dedicated campaign to address road safety in the months leading up to the race, a campaign to highlight race communities and local businesses, creating a list of race day congestion areas and escort services, and forming a communication plan to help highlight Ironman’s giveback to the community.

Board discussion

Trish Friedlander, who’s a member of the Ironman Task Force, attended Monday’s village board meeting and addressed board members before their vote. She was surprised that the village board was voting to support a three-year contract; she said it was her understanding as a task force member that the Ironman Group would first spend this year fulfilling the committee’s recommendations before local municipalities considered signing on to more races.

Trustee Peter Holderied said that night’s vote was being held in part to approve a contract for this year, citing “liability reasons.” Devlin later said that he put the Ironman contract on that night’s agenda to ensure that WTC could register athletes for the 2023 race the day after this year’s race.

“I don’t like it any more than you do,” Holderied told Friedlander on Monday.

Holderied told Friedlander there was “nothing in the contract” saying that the task force would be reviewing this year’s race.

The contract obtained by the Enterprise states that “ROOST shall transition the Ironman Task Force to a general Events Council for ROOST for all large-scale regional events review. The existing task force will transition to this newly focused Events Council reviewing all pertinent regional events.” The contract also states that WTC “shall make reasonable best efforts to address and resolve any known recommendations regarding community relations from ROOST’s 2021 and 2022 Ironman Task Force.”

Friedlander told the village board on Monday that she thought the Ironman Group needed to take more actions to make the race more “community-minded,” and she thought the task force felt the same way when she was a part of it.

“As a community member, I hope you don’t sign the contract,” she said.

When Trustee Jackie Kelly put the motion on the floor to authorize the mayor to sign the contract, Devlin asked if there was a second, which would prompt a vote. The room fell silent for several moments.

“This is a tough one,” Trustee Marc Galvin said.

Galvin then said he’s seen Ironman make some progress on a couple of requests from the task force, but he worried that the board had nothing to hold Ironman accountable; he thought that was how the Lake Placid community felt, too.

Holderied asked village Attorney Janet Bliss if the board could sign the contract just for the 2022 race, but she said they couldn’t because Ironman had presented an “integrated” three-year contract.

Bliss said that the proposed contract gave Ironman the right to terminate the contract under certain conditions, and she’d suggested an amendment that Ironman should be required to provide eight months’ notice of cancellation ahead of the race. She said that change was added to the contract an hour before that night’s meeting. Holderied asked if that was a one-sided clause, or if the town and village also had an option to terminate the contract under certain conditions if they provided eight months’ notice. Bliss said the municipalities don’t have that option in the current contract.

“No, it’s pretty one-sided,” she said.

Bliss pointed out that the contract includes the requirement that all members of the contract decide the number of the next year’s registrants together. Bliss implied that the board could decide to disagree with Ironman’s proposed number of registrants for upcoming years.

Galvin asked Friedlander if she’s seen Ironman “turning a corner” and showing a willingness to continue working on the task force’s recommendations. She said she had, but she said she wanted more “culpability” to “hold them to the fire.” Galvin said that’s why the board “fought” to keep the task force in the contract — he said the committee had been pulled out of the original proposed contract.

“I do think that, based on (the fact that) we are their second most popular race, they’re going to do everything in their power to not lose this — which would mean complying in keeping the local community as happy as they can,” Devlin said.

Holderied disagreed.

“The initial contract that they gave us, that showed their cards,” Holderied said. “They just disregarded the task force committee.”

“Well, if they don’t come through the next two years, they’re never going to be here again,” Devlin replied. “Do you really think they’re that shortsighted that they don’t want to be here long term?”

Holderied later added that he thought the first draft of the contract he saw aimed to dissolve the Ironman Task Force by March of this year without replacing it with a similar committee. Ironman Regional Race Director Dave Christen on Thursday said he wasn’t sure which draft of the contract Holderied was referring to. Christen noted that someone reading the first draft of the contract — which he said was presented to all the signing parties sometime in the last six months — might have missed the part requiring Ironman to “make reasonable best efforts to address and resolve” the task force’s recommendations, but he thought that was included in the contract from the beginning.

Devlin ultimately seconded Kelly’s motion to take a vote, calling the motions a “contentious” first and second. The board then took its unanimous vote.

Bliss said that she’d relay the “reluctance” of the board’s decision.

Devlin said that the board expects Ironman to “prove themselves.” He thought that for every one person in the community who was against having the triathlon here, there was someone who supported it. He said Ironman is “entitled” to a chance to improve those odds, and he thought Ironman would “bargain in good faith.”

Friedland reminded the board of the scope of the task force’s recommendations, and she wants the board to hold out more than hope that Ironman fulfills them.

“I think that there should be some holding to the fire — if they really want it, they’ll do these things that aren’t big asks,” she said. “They’re just to better the race for our community, to better the race for our village.”

Devlin noted he hadn’t noticed many bikers riding by his hotel this year — referencing one of the primary resident complaints about traffic disruptions in the lead-up to the triathlon as athletes train — and Galvin said that could be because of the current construction along Main Street and state Route 73. Village Treasurer Mindy Goddeau mentioned that there were plenty of bikers still riding through the Wilmington Notch on state Route 86, and she said bikers were riding on both sides of the road. Devlin asked if the cyclists were being courteous to drivers, and Goddeau said they weren’t.

“That’ll be something we have to work on,” Devlin said.

Implementing recommendations

To accommodate some of the task force’s recommendations for the 2022 race, ROOST Chief Operating Officer Mary Jane Lawrence said the Ironman Group has published a code of conduct for athletes, created videos highlighting the area and local communities, drawn up a local map highlighting race course communities and designated a contact person to field calls from locals with concerns and questions about the race. The contact person can be reached at 615-669-0022 or community.cgi@ironman.com. The Ironman Task Force also asked for “escort” services to be put in place so people blocked in their driveways during the race could travel out of their homes. Lawrence said people needing an escort should call the Ironman contact person.

Lawrence said Ironman has also been communicating with athletes about bike safety and being “good partners” with the region.

The task force additionally recommended that Ironman work with local emergency services and compensate them for their services on race day; that a cap be placed on the number of competitors each year; that times of congestion and road closures be clearly communicated; that local athletes be acknowledged with specific bib colors and numbers; that Ironman review possible date and course changes for the race in future years; and that Ironman be responsible for compensating State Police for their services on race day. This contract does require WTC to compensate State Police.

The race dates for 2023 and 2024 had not been decided in the Enterprise’s copy of the contract — which was dated July 19 — though the contract states that the 2023 race date would be “mutually agreed to” by contract signers by July 17 of this year.

At the time of the board meeting on Monday, board members and the village attorney hadn’t heard a definite race date for 2023. Lawrence on July 19 said that next year’s race will happen on Sunday, July 23. The 2024 date is expected to be set by July 1 of next year.

Board reflects

Galvin and Holderied showed hesitation before their votes on Monday. Reached by phone on Thursday, Galvin said the board had received the final contract just 10 minutes before the board meeting started.

“We basically saw it at the meeting,” he said.

That was part of his hesitation, he said. He also wanted an “out” for the village in the contract, and he thought the clause requiring Ironman and the signing parties to agree on the number of competitors fulfilled that.

Galvin thought that “out” wouldn’t be necessary though, as he’s seen Ironman taking steps to fulfill the task force’s recommendations. He’d heard concerns from task force members about the number of athletes competing this year — the task force recommended a cap of 3,000 athletes each year — and he thought there was somewhere around 2,900 athletes registered this year, staying below that cap. Christen declined to share the specific number of registered athletes this year, saying the number was somewhere between 2,200 and 2,500, a “similar” number to years past. Lawrence said on Thursday that there were 2,598 athletes registered for this year’s race.

Reached by phone Thursday, Holderied said he was still “totally conflicted” in his support of Ironman. He said that personally, he “can’t stand” the race. He said he’s talked to a lot of community members who feel the same. But overall, he believes the race brings an economic benefit to the community and he wanted to put his personal feelings aside for the vote. He said the original contract he saw from Ironman was like a “slap in the face” because he didn’t remember seeing anything written about Ironman’s verbal agreement to uphold the task force’s recommendations. He also noted that the Events Council the contract proposes to replace the Ironman Task Force “doesn’t exist” and had been proposed by another committee in the past.

Devlin on Thursday reiterated his support of the race, as well as his intention to make sure Ironman fulfills its promises to accommodate the task force’s recommendations. He said Ironman has been a good partner, and they’ve acknowledged that the race has “drifted” away from how it was in the early days by offering Christen as a liason between the municipalities, ROOST and Ironman.

“He seems to be bargaining in good faith, he seems to be doing and saying all the right things, and now we just need to give him a chance to come in and make the changes he said and see if they’re good enough for the community,” Devlin said. He added that “actions speak louder than words.”

While Kelly didn’t say much during the board’s discussion on Monday, she described the Ironman triathlon as a “good fit” for Lake Placid on Thursday. She said she understands that a lot of locals are inconvenienced by the race — she said she is too — but she believes it’s an “economic driver” for the area and impacts the Tri-Lakes region in a positive way.

Though Leon wasn’t present for the vote on Monday, he said on Tuesday that he “assumed” the village board would vote in support of the Ironman contract. He thought that the village had been thoroughly involved in revising the contract along with the town, ROOST and Ironman, though he said he wasn’t sure “if there were some things that were resolved and updated” without hearing the board’s discussion.

“I truly believe that the village board did their due diligence and reviewed the Ironman contracts and asked ROOST and Ironman to make adjustments that they felt were necessary,” he said.

He said one thing he was still concerned about is that the existing task force would be placed under the Events Council that he thought hadn’t met yet — he said there seems to be a lot of “putting the cart before the horse.” He said it seemed fair to give Ironman at least this year to work on the recommendations set by the task force as long as the committee was still in place, but he said that was about as much support as he could give to Ironman considering the survey issued by ROOST last year that showed the community was nearly evenly split in its support for the triathlon.

The Ironman Lake Placid triathlon returns this Sunday, July 24.

Starting at $1.44/week.

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