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VOP releases Ironman survey results

Three-quarters of respondents see no benefit to community

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Pemberton residents see no value in shutting down roads for the bulk of a Sunday to allow the Subaru Ironman Canada event to pass through town.

The Village of Pemberton (VOP) released the results of its survey regarding the race at its May 16 meeting with many respondents indicating they would be happy to see the event move elsewhere after the five-year contract between the World Triathlon Corporation, Resort Municipality of Whistler and Tourism Whistler expires following this July's event.

In a SurveyMonkey poll of 369 residents of Pemberton, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, Lil'wat Nation and Pemberton Meadows, roughly 75 per cent of respondents saw no value in hosting the event. Nearly 80 per cent would not support the event's return in 2018 and beyond without changes. Only 20 per cent would support its return, and that number climbed to 26 per cent if organizers agreed to provide the region with "a small benefit, legacy or donation (beyond the Aid Station grants)."

"Three to one say they don't want the event back," said Councillor Ted Craddock.

"I think we have to pay attention to that. Part of my being on council is to look at what the majority wants. I'm not feeling very comfortable that the community wants Ironman back for another five years."

Craddock's comments were echoed by fellow councillors and Mayor Mike Richman.

"I think a big part of it is that we're the end of the line the way Ironman approaches the event," Richman said. "I don't think Ironman has really stepped up and addressed that — in terms of marketing and promotion."

Coun. James Linklater said he'd like to see the VOP in partnership with Ironman organizers so the community would reap benefits.

The VOP voted to send an invitation to Ironman organizers, as well as Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy with an eye to increased marketing and promotion, and increased cycling safety. The invitation will be copied to the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Pemberton and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

Pemberton Chamber of Commerce president Graham Turner expressed concern over the number of businesses that need to close on event day when there's little trade-off making up for it on other days.

"The hotel rooms are all in Whistler. There's not a whole lot of spike in anything here," he said. "The roads are now all closed because you can't get to Whistler. You can't get up to the Meadows. It does shut the town down."

The initial hope was Pemberton would receive tourist attention for its role in the race, but hasn't been afforded anywhere near equal billing to Whistler.

"If you go onto the website, you can't really find Pemberton mentioned anywhere," Turner said, noting one passing reference when outlining the race route. "We're not getting the exposure. Whistler's getting the exposure."

Turner noted the community grants in exchange for volunteer hours help organizations in town, such as Pemberton BMX where he serves as vice-president, but while the money helps, the volunteers certainly earn it.

"We're here for the entire day and get $1,000 that goes back to our association, our club. That's really the only benefit we see," he said.

While events like the Slow Food Cycle also close the roads, Turner said there is greater support for it as the ride highlights the local industry and there is a tangible local flavour to it.

Tourism Pemberton president Mark Mendonca, the owner of Grimm's Gourmet and Deli, said there is the potential for Pemberton get a spotlight from the event. He's hoping to see videos or other marketing materials come through from Ironman to help boost the village's profile.

"If they could do a better job of enhancing what they offer to Pemberton, I think that would be the best-case scenario," he said.

"We're trying to grasp what it's done for the tourism community here. We're working with public input. We're going to see how we can work with the folks at Ironman," he said.

In an email to Pique, meanwhile, David Tanner of Plenty Wild Farms said his parents would race at the event when it was held in Penticton, noting the community feeling and "salient" benefits for the area. He's heard from his parents and others that the move hasn't been a beneficial one in those regards.

"I was surprised to hear that they were really disappointed in the new race. Their chief complaint was that it lacked community and that the event felt lost amidst the mountain bikers, tourists and other general happenings in Whistler," Tanner wrote.

Ironman senior regional director Keats McGonigal said they've heard the community's concerns and plan to work with stakeholders to make the event work for everyone.

"In general, we're looking forward to the opportunity to address the issues that were raised with the appropriate staff," he said. "It's certainly our goal, like in all communities, to go in and leave a positive overall impact. Our responsibility as Ironman is to continue to mitigate the concerns as they're raised."

McGonigal said beginning with this year's race, there are plans to increase Pemberton's presence in the event replay program on TSN, as well as to increase cycling safety messaging in the community.

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