UPDATE: Rock 'n' Roll marathon not returning to Chatham County in 2022




UPDATE: According to a statement released by the Rock 'n' Roll Running Series, the Rock 'n' Roll marathon will not return to Chatham County in 2022 or 2023. 

Runners who typically hit the streets of Savannah each November during the Rock 'n' Roll marathon weekend might be heading to Pooler this year after the City of Savannah opted not to renew its contract with the race series.

During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said it is his understanding race promoters are in talks with the City of Pooler to host the 2022 race. Pooler officials and race promoters have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Savannah's prior agreement ended after the 2021 race and late Monday evening the city announced it would not be renewing the $25,000 contract this year.

Johnson said while the marathon has been a great community activity there are many variables contemplated in renewing an event as large as the marathon.

"We all must remember that while this event has an impact on business, and it has an impact on tourism, and it has an impact on the economy, it also has an impact on residents, and neighborhoods and communities. And we have yet to gauge, quantify or determine that impact," he said.



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Touted as an economic driver by those in the tourism industry, the race not only brings in thousands of visitors but also millions in spending over the course of the weekend event.

Through a post-race economic impact study conducted by San Diego State University on behalf of the Rock ‘n' Roll Marathon producers, participants and their families are estimated to contribute $15 million to $20 million annually.

According to the 2019 study, total economic impact was just over $23 million and total visitors topped 14,000.

Johnson said along with the $25,000 to host the race comes the costs for police, sanitation, traffic engineering and other support staff and departments. Taking a break this year serves as an opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate, he said.

“I've said this here publicly, that we would reevaluate all these big public events. And again, we're going to make sure that they still fit the need that we have here in Savannah,” he said.

“Our city has changed. Our city has become more dense and we have to look at the disruptions that occur in our community.”

Ongoing conversations

Earlier this year, Johnson said events such as the marathon might have to be reimagined should the Chatham County legislative delegation fail to pass a proposed increase to the city's hotel/motel tax.

The funds from the increase would have gone to tourism product development that without the additional funding might not be possible, Johnson said.

The effort ultimately failed to pass and Georgia House Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), who serves as chairman of the Chatham County legislative delegation, previously told the Savannah Morning News that there was lack of support for the hotel-motel tax increase among local hoteliers.

Johnson denied that the opt out was related to failed hotel/motel tax increase efforts.

“Now, obviously, on the other end of it, if it had passed, then the $50 million, $60 million coming to this community and to the city, it certainly would have  increased the return on investment. I think it changes the equation, but at the end of the day, we have to deal with the equation as it is,” he said, adding that conversations surrounding the contract have been ongoing and shouldn't come as a surprise.



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During the Oct. 14, 2021 city council meeting, Savannah City Manager Jay Melder said that the 2021 race was the last in a three-year agreement and that the city had been in contact with race promoters to let them know that the city would no longer be contributing the $25,000 it pays to host the event in the future.

“The city manager made that recommendation and I fully support it,” Johnson said Tuesday.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, the Rock 'n' Roll series said it was notified of the cancellation on Monday. The group hopes to provide further updates on or before Friday, April 29.

“We are certainly disappointed to learn of this change in position since last year’s event, and also recognize the disappointment our participants will have by this news,” the statement read.

“We will continue to work with local officials to understand what potential may exist for an event to return to Savannah in future years, and in the meantime will be exploring all options within the region for a new destination that can provide a great event experience for our runners. As more information becomes available, we will provide updates to our participants.”

What's next

The city hosted the first Rock 'n' Roll race in Nov. 2011. Registration maxed out at 23,000 participants by August and included runners from all 50 states and 20 countries.

The race weekend, which also includes a half marathon on Saturday, and a 5k, a one-miler and a “Kids Rock” race on Sunday at Daffin Park, has continued to draw thousands of runners from across the country each year since.

The city remains open to hosting the race again in the future, but with some changes, Johnson said.

"This is an opportunity for us to reconfigure some of this. I mean, first of all, we pay $25,000 for this. We've been using the same route for 10 years. Well, can we maybe consider a different route, so that we give a break to those who are impacted every year?' he said.

“I think there's a variety of things. But you do that by having a conversation.”

Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at knussbaum@savannahnow.com. Twitter: KnussSMN

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: UPDATE: Rock 'n' Roll marathon not returning to Chatham County in 2022