Though it wasn’t reviewed by its own Tourist Development Council, the Flagler County Commission Monday unanimously approved a $25,000 subsidy for the a previously controversial Spartan Race event in the county, though this time the November 2016 race will take place on private land as opposed to the Princess Place Preserve, where it had been originally scheduled to take place.
The tourist council last summer had approved the spending when the race was set for Princess Place. But a public outcry over staging the race, which draws up to 6,000 runners over an 8-mile course and uses more than two dozen man-made obstacles that remake the landscape to challenge competitors.
“They did not reconsider the new location or anything else that’s come up on this,” County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said at this morning’s meeting, asking County Administrator Craig Coffey why that was so. Bill McGuire, a member of the tourist council, had said previously that he wanted the item reconsidered before it was approved, even for the new location. That did not take place.
“They don’t review any locations, we’ve never done that for any events,” Coffey said. “The board of county commissioners has never reviewed any locations, how the police are handled, how the fire is handled, where the runners’ parking happens. TDC only approves funding, and that’s what we’re bringing to you today for this item, it’s just a funding request to support a large event. It’s not on our facilities anymore, we have a year to plan for EMS and sheriff and all that kind of stuff. We’ll work out all those details in the next year.”
“So where then does the planning of the event gets reviewed by our county? Commission Chairman Barbara Revels said.
“If it’s at our facility, we review any events whether they’re TDC or not. We have a special events process, we review them and we bring police and fire and EMS together. If it’s on our property we’ll bring appropriate park people,” Coffey said. But if the county commission were to review every event, Coffey, claimed, the county would be at a competitive disadvantage with other counties.
Coffey was overstating the case. No commissioner was asking to review “every event” to that end, as the near-totality of venues chosen for sporting and cultural events are not controversial, and are designed for just such events. The Spartan race drew more attention because of the county administration’s and tourism chief Matt Dunn’s mishandling of the original plan to site the race at Princess Place, an environmentally protected area: Spartan was taking bookings for that race before the county commission had approved it. The reason it became an issue was exclusively because of its location—a location commissioners opposed, and forced Dunn and the administration to reverse course.
Coffey recognized the different nature of this event, specifically referring to “the sensitivity of the issue,” which he said caused the administration to be more specific in its handling of the contract with Spartan. “They are going to pay for law enforcement, they are going to pay for the emergency services there on site,” Coffey said.
That, too, is only partly correct: the contract calls for the county to underwrite those costs with the $25,000 grant from the county. The contract reads that that $25,000 grant will be used “for expenditures related to the event,” which include “police, sheriff deputies, ushers, marshals, etc.” In effect, the county is providing money to the organization for that money to be used to pay the county, up to $25,000. Beyond that, Spartan is responsible for the costs.
The new venue has hosted events of up to 2,000 participants in the past as well as events involving 4-wheel vehicles. The November 2016 race will have “a minimum of 3,000 event competitors.” That’s half the number once projected for the Spartan race at Princess Place, though the race is likely to draw close to the higher number.
“Although this event is bigger than what they’ve hosted in the past, we’ve worked through the details to increase the area we’ve had to work with, and Matt’s done a great job getting all that set up,” Coffey said. “Just for the record, at this event there will be some intense obstacles that weren’t going to be at Princess Place, but because it’s on areas where they cross streams and stuff, there will be more intense objects and obstacles at this race than there would have been at Princess Place.” (In the Princess Place plan, the race organizers had not gotten as far as mapping the race and providing the county a list of obstacles that were going to be constructed. Spartan had only provided verbal pledges that certain obstacles would not be built.) In this case, the obstacles to be built are an issue between Spartan and the land owner. The county will have no say.
Aside from the few questions Ericksen and Revels raised at this morning’s meeting, commissioners had no objections or queries about the race, and approved the $25,000 subsidy after a brief discussion, 5-0.