Messy split mires marathon

by Tom Coombe -

The Ely Marathon will have new management in 2019, after a parting of the ways between the event’s originator and its financial sponsor.
Wendy Lindsay, who has coordinated the event since its inception in 2015, was unable to come to terms on either a management or purchase agreement with Ely’s Events Coordinator Bureau, a consortium of several local entities.
Via an email Lindsay shared with dozens of marathon supporters, Lindsay said that the bureau “had decided to no longer use the services”of Stone Soup Events, the company she owns and operates “for the Ely Marathon and corresponding events.”
Despite the shakeup, the marathon will go on as scheduled Sept. 21, along with other associated events including a half-marathon and a five-kilometer run held the evening before.
The Ely Chamber of Commerce, which joins the city of Ely, Incredible Ely and the Ely Area Tourism Bureau in the events coordinator alliance, issued a news release this week that indicated the marathon will proceed.
“We have such a beautiful setting and runners are excited to take on our northwoods race course,” said Eva Sebesta, executive director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce.
Finances appear to be at the heart of the dispute that led to the split between Lindsay and the event bureau.
While Lindsay has operated the event each year, the marathon was owned by the events bureau, and the entities have invested $120,000 since the bureau was formed to sponsor and promote local events.
Ross Petersen, former mayor of Ely and one of the initial proponents of the events coordinator arrangement,said “our bottom line turned out to be that there’s got to be something coming back for all of the money that we’ve put into it.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how much the bureau had invested into the marathon, but members offered to sell ownership rights to Lindsay for $21,000 - including a $1,000 payment this year and $5,000 in each of the next four years.
“There was a lot of taxpayer money put into this, and we didn’t just put that in so (Lindsay) could have a great event,” said Petersen.
According to Petersen, Lindsay proposed buying ownership of the event for $10,000, but committee members balked at the offer and the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
“Now it’s a messy problem,” said Petersen.
Lindsay said “we are deeply saddened and frustrated with this as it has been such a large part of our life for the past five years, but being that they actually own the name and event, we must move on.”
Petersen called the marathon, which has attracted hundreds of participants each year “a great event for the city.”
It has quickly become a staple on the fall calendar, with the 26-mile race as well as the half-marathon both finishing at Whiteside Park, where music and other festivities were held to coincide wit the event.
Petersen said the Ely Chamber is exploring options including finding a new management firm to run the event, but the bureau says the race will go on.
The marathon is noted for its course, which starts on the Echo Trail, and a handful of athletes have taken part in the “canoe marathon” division, portaging a canoe for the entire full or half-marathon distance. It captured the attention of the Guiness Book of World Records.
“Ely’s marathon experience is unique with its unrelenting hills and scenic race course winding down the Echo Trail to Winton and finishing at Whiteside Park,” said Sebesta. “While most marathons tend to be flat and fast, Ely’s marathon provides plenty of challenge for endurance racers. Of course, the canoe division adds plenty of area flavor too and puts those wilderness portages into complete perspective – especially if the racer chooses the full marathon option.”
Lindsay said Thursday that “we are really saddened by this.”
“The marathon was not a job for us, it was a passion,” she said. “We had been looking forward to investing in and growing this event.”
Lindsay said her company worked with 16 different groups to assist with one or more aspects of marathon planning, many that reaped funds as a result.
“I hope the Chamber of Commerce will keep to that mission,” said Lindsay.
Petersen conceded that the events coordinator set-up wasn’t quite what he envisioned when he was an advocate prior to leaving office.
The bureau has honed in on the marathon and another event - the Great American Canoe Festival - that was eliminated after two years of heavy financial losses,
“We ended up putting lots of taxpayer money into just a couple of events, where I wanted the same amount of money to promote lots of events,” said Petersen. “I wanted the whole calendar filled.”