WHILE THE FIRST Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon was an overall success despite some logistical hiccups — the second of a contracted three annual editions happens this weekend — “Savannah had never produced an event quite at this scale, so it was a bit of adventure for all of us,” recalls Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli.
“But it was also a neat opportunity to work with city staff, county staff, the police department, the sheriff’s department.”
With the inaugural edition in the rearview mirror, it became obvious to organizers — both locally and at the national level with The Competitor Group, the company which owns and operates the R ‘n’ R Marathon brand — that a couple of areas needed immediate improvement. Specifically, improving the potential impact on local businesses and the marathon course itself.
“We got plenty of feedback about how much runners really enjoyed running in different neighborhoods and communities, and they didn’t want to lose that. But they also felt like they didn’t see enough of the historic district and perhaps saw a little too much of the Truman Parkway,” says Marinelli. “We think runners will be pleased with the changes.”
Malain McCormick, event director with The Competitor Group, says the fact that the company works within a similar template for all its events means it’s amassed enough expertise and metrics to know when and where to tweak marathons to make them more effective.
“People wanted to spend some more time in the areas that are more well–known. Runners really appreciate the historic squares,” she says. “Also, this year we’re going entirely through Savannah State University, which lessens impact on the surrounding neighborhoods there.”
Indeed, three miles of the 26.5 mile course will go through SSU. Runners will enter at the LaRoche entrance, go around Felix Alexis Circle, where local band Nickel Bag of Funk will be playing, around the track at newly renovated Tiger Stadium and back out LaRoche. The public is invited to the stadium to cheer runners on.
The other main complaint was that “a lot of downtown businesses were disappointed they didn’t get the foot traffic they hoped for,” says Marinelli. “I think last year we may have over–prepared the community, and people weren’t sure what to expect.”
Marinelli says this year the city is working with the Competitor Group to relocate about 2500 parking paces that last year were dedicated to the Savannah Mall parking lot.
“This year we worked with the city to purchase on–street parking, garage space and even some space on Hutchinson Island,” he says. “Last year we saw that the historic district wasn’t as nutty as we expected. So there’s more space for people to come into town, and in turn that should create a bit more foot traffic.”
McCormick goes into greater detail about the changes:
“Knowing that Savannah is such a compact city, originally we wanted to make sure the number of people didn’t impede progress at the start. So we looked for a remote parking area. But what we discovered was the number of cars we could accommodate at Savannah Mall was about equal to the number we could accommodate downtown,” she says.
“And we know there were some issues in the downtown area of some businesses saying they didn’t see the crowds they’d hoped for. So we decided to drive some traffic back downtown.”
Marinelli says despite complaints about foot traffic, the R ‘n’ R Marathon is a quantifiable economic benefit to Savannah.
“It’s a great event. It fills a lot of hotel rooms that weekend, and it’s terrific that in turn there is some spillover effect for local businesses. But from our perspective — and what I love most about this event — is the race participants are exactly the type of visitors that we want in Savannah,” he says.
“They’re primarily female, in the 25–45 age group, and all our research tells us that the female is the primary decisionmaker for traveling. They are the kinds of folks that will make repeat visits to our city in the future and will tell their friends and family members about us,” says Marinelli.
“Once this year’s event is done, we are hoping to complete the negotiations to keep the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in Savannah for many years to come,” he concludes.
McCormick says the Marathon is especially appreciative of Savannah, which brings its own brand of old-school hospitality to the mix.
“This is definitely one of the smallest cities we do an event in,” she says. “I work in cities big and small, and it’s great to work with a city that’s so supportive and really highlights the event as one of its top events. You don’t always get that kind of support or enthusiasm in a much bigger city.”