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Hopes running high for St. Pete's Rock 'n' Roll marathon

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 08:58 AM

It might have been the unusually frigid temperatures or a case of over-optimism.

Whatever the reason, the economics of the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon's inaugural St. Petersburg run last year weren't all they were cracked up to be.

This year, organizers are optimistic about the Feb. 10 event, although they're a little more cautious in their turnout estimates.

In the months leading up to last year's race, organizers, tourism officials and city leaders touted the event as a huge draw that would pack downtown hotels and pump as much as $12 million into the local economy.

Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg gave a combined $130,000 to Competitor Group, the for-profit outfit that runs the event — a move that drew criticism from local organizers of nonprofit races.

The event was expected to draw 12,000 to 15,000 participants, more than half of whom were supposed to have been from out of state. But only 7,000 to 8,500 people came, about 20 percent from out of state.

The event filled about 4,189 hotel rooms and had an estimated economic impact of more than $7.8 million, organizers said. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster had predicted the race would bring in nearly twice that.

But local tourism officials are counting on the race to do more than fill hotel rooms on just one night.

"This is a long-term proposition," Pinellas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Deputy Director David Downing said. "It's about growing the brand of the destination."

Marketing the race in places such as Chicago and New York City will attract visitors over time, according to the Competitor Group's Lyndsi Weichert, the event manager for the St. Pete race. Runners in colder climates who are familiar with the Rock 'n' Roll races, held in more than 30 cities worldwide, may be looking for a sunny racing destination this time of year, she said.

"We are seeing positive response in those markets," Weichert said.

Still, organizers are being a little more cautious in their turnout estimates, saying the number of people who come out for the race this year should be on par with last year.

The Rock 'n' Roll races distinguish themselves from other road races by featuring musical acts along the way to cheer on runners. The half-marathon also has a more casual feel than a full marathon and culminates with a party-like atmosphere, Weichert said.

Flo Rida played last year's event, and pop star Sean Kingston is scheduled to headline this year. A 5K run has been added to draw less-experienced runners.

Otherwise, this year's race is about the same as last year's. The course starts at Tropicana Field and ends at Northshore Park; shuttles will bring runners to an after-party back at the starting point.

Runner Alexandra Sterling will take part in the race for a second year in part because of the event's reputation and partly as a tribute to her sister, who passed away nine years ago while running the Boston Marathon. The 43-year-old medical writer from Tampa said last year's event seemed to be run pretty smoothly, even if parts of the course weren't nice to look at.

But she would like organizers to change one aspect of the event: the headliner.

"It's not really rock 'n' roll," she said. "I would have hoped that it was someone more on the rock 'n' roll side."


kbradshaw@tampatrib.com (727) 215-7999

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