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Los Angeles
Friday, Sep 29, 2023




Staff Reporter

Next month, more than 20,000 runners will jam the city’s streets for the L.A. Marathon which in the 11 years since its founding has become one of the city’s biggest annual public events.

But while many credit the marathon for contributing to community spirit, its financial impact on the city is much more of an open question.

L.A. Marathon Inc., the private company that puts on the 26.2-mile race, released a report last week that estimates this year’s marathon will bring the city an economic boost of $12.4 million. That projection includes direct spending at hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as the spin-off benefit and expenditures on such things as advertising and promotion.

But some experts warn to be wary of such numbers especially in L.A., where the marathon does not draw as large an international field as races such as the New York Marathon.

“I’m not so sure that a one-day special event has the economic impact that the reports often purport them to have,” said Chris Tatreau, a race consultant based in Philadelphia. “I’ve seen a lot of economic impact (reports) with large numbers that I just scratch my head at.”

The key question, Tatreau said, is determining where the marathon’s field is coming from. If the runners are from outside the region, they will more likely stay multiple nights in hotels, eat in more restaurants and spend money on tourist attractions.

About half of the field in the New York Marathon, for example, is made up of foreigners. In contrast, about 84 percent of the participants in L.A.’s race are from California and less than 1 percent of L.A.’s field hails from outside the United States, according to statistics provided by L.A. Marathon Inc.

This means that most of the participants either don’t stay overnight in the city or stay only one night, said Bob Wentworth, director of sales for the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles.

Wentworth predicted the Hyatt will be about 80 percent occupied over the March 2 weekend “a healthy occupancy for a weekend,” he said.

But he noted that much of the reason for the high occupancy will be a large computer convention that begins on the Monday following the race. The marathon, he says, is “not like a four-night convention that represents significant revenues to the hotel.”

Other hotels also report a minimal impact. The downtown Sheraton Grande Hotel gets a “handful of people from the marathon,” said Anna Marie Kocher, director of sales and marketing. At the Omni Los Angeles, which used to be one of the race’s host hotels and is situated at the starting line, Mel Logan, the hotel’s director of marketing, said marathon participants will fill about 100 of the hotel’s 900 rooms while the Monday convention is taking up much of the rest of its space.

Even the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau seems to have a conflicted view of the marathon’s impact.

The marathon usually books space at the Convention Center for the pre-race exposition. But the convention bureau is now looking at renting the space to another group next year.

“We’re looking at a group that could bring a lot of people into the city and fill a lot of hotel rooms,” said spokeswoman Carol Martinez.

At the same time, Martinez said, the bureau does respect the contribution the marathon makes to the city’s image.

“The marathon is good for L.A. because it gets a lot of media coverage and helps us promote L.A. as a visitor destination,” she said. “But conventions bring in a lot of revenue to the city.”

All this is heresy to William Burke, the president of L.A. Marathon Inc. and founder of the race.

“We have put more than $100 million into the economy,” said Burke, citing the aggregate revenue to hotels, restaurants and other businesses over the past 11 years.

Even so, some city officials have questioned the size of that benefit. Some also have questioned whether Burke is paying enough to cover the city’s costs of closing down streets, providing police protection and other expenses.

Under a contract with the city that runs through 2005, Burke pays $100,000 a year for city services. Similar fees are routinely waived for professional sports teams and special events such as the Academy Awards.

“I pay $100,000 to the city to cover the costs of planning, street use, police,” he said. “The Dodgers, for example, don’t give them a thing. (The city) hasn’t given me anything that I don’t deserve under the equal protection of the law.”

Even so, the city’s costs for providing LAPD officers, traffic enforcement personnel and firefighters is $247,500 on the day of the event, said Denise Verret, senior administrative analyst for the City Administrative Office. In addition, planning costs prior to the event add another $150,000 to the bill.

Burke questions these numbers, noting that the last number he saw put the city’s expenses at about $186,000.

“It’s incredulous spending $150,000 planning something they’ve done for 12 years,” he said.

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine the actual costs and benefits to the city, said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County.

“It’s a tough thing to do because of the nature of the event you can’t call up every business and find out how much they’ve made from marathon business,” said Kyser.

Even so, Kyser calls the $12.4 million estimate by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. “pretty conservative” and points out that any additional revenue to businesses along the marathon route and downtown hotels is welcome.

“It’s gravy,” he said. “The race happens during a time period they would not normally get business.”

Randy Villareal, general manager of the Biltmore, a marathon host hotel, says business has even picked up since the marathon course was changed last year to start and end in downtown.

“The race has a large regional draw,” said Villareal. “If you have to drive to the Coliseum (where the race used to start), it was just as easy to get in your car and go back home. Now you can drive in, stay at a hotel and walk a couple of blocks to the starting line,” said Villareal.

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