Maple Valley will receive a burst of business and exposure on Sept. 20 when it’s scheduled to host an Ironman triathlon that is expected to draw 2,700 athletes plus about 8,100 spectators who travel with the competitors.
Assuming the coronavirus is no longer an issue by then.
“I’m feeling optimistic about our September race, that we’re far enough out,” said Maple Valley City Manager Laura Philpot, who was instrumental in landing the Ironman 70.3 Washington — a half-distance triathlon consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run in and around Lake Wilderness Park — after approaching race organizers about 2 ½ years ago.
“They saw the beauty that we have and the amazing roads and, 2 ½ years later, here we are,” said Philpot, herself a triathlete and the first one to sign up for the event.
The event was at 85 percent capacity, the race organizer said last week.
The Ironman Group of Tampa, Florida, which operates the race, has had to postpone and reschedule a number of spring triathlons due to the outbreak of COVID-19, including the nearby Ironman 70.3 in Victoria, B.C. That race was moved from May 31 to Aug. 9.
Philpot hopes the curve of COVID-19 cases will have long flattened by September and life will be normalized.
Maple Valley businesses will welcome the restaurant, retail, and other business from competitors and spectators after losses caused by the coronavirus, she said. Because the city has no hotels, The Ironman Group is contracting with Renton hotels for athlete rooms.
The economic impact for Maple Valley from the Ironman 70.3 will be about $5 million in direct economic impact on the local economy and about $8 million when indirect and induced economic impacts are included, according to a city estimate.
“In addition, I think it gives an opportunity for more people to see how amazing Maple Valley is,” Philpot said. “We would love to have more businesses site here,” and generate more employment opportunities, she added.
The triathlon could be considered an economic development tool, exposing the city’s attributes — particularly its proximity to outdoor recreation assets that could appeal to the triathlon audience — along with its available commercial land.
The city, with a population of 25,698 and roughly equidistant from Seattle and Tacoma, has 226 acres available for employment development. A 122-acre site, called Summit Place and owned by King County, is available for uses that include technology, education, medical, light industrial, government, and makers space (creative economy), according to an email from Tim Morgan, the city’s economic development manager.
Summit Place, which is not zoned for residential, could accommodate roughly 1.5 million square feet of development under a pair of design concepts.
The city would like to pursue outdoor recreation industry businesses for at least a portion of Summit Place since it’s located near outdoor recreation assets like Black Diamond Open Space mountain bike trails, and the Green to Cedar Rivers Trail, and would support the city’s outdoor recreation-focused economic initiative, Morgan said.
Philpot hopes the triathlon proves to be a development spark.
“Maybe I’m just being super Pollyanna, but it’s very possible that one of the athletes or one of the spectators comes in — and Maple Valley’s a community they hadn’t thought of before — and this just helps make that connection and we end up with something that comes out of it,” Philpot said.
Whether that happens or not, the immediate impact will be welcome.
“I feel like it’s a boost to our local businesses, absolutely, whatever we can do to bring business in town to boost our small businesses and our amazing restaurants that we have here,” Philpot said. “On top of that, can we market and sell ourselves and convince some up-and-coming, amazing company that wants to site here because their employees would enjoy the lifestyle that we offer.”
The Ironman 70.3 Washington-Maple Valley triathlon joins a series of more than 110 Ironman 70.3 events globally. The Ironman 70.3 events series was launched in 2006 and Washington’s race will offer 40 age-group qualifying slots to the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship scheduled to take place in St. George, Utah, according to an email from The Ironman Group. Full-distance triathlons, including the marquee Ironman World Championship each year in Hawaii, are 140.6 miles.
Maple Valley’s course will revolve around Lake Wilderness Park. Participants will swim 1.2 miles in Lake Wilderness, embark from the park on a 56-mile bicycle ride, then return to the park to begin their 13.1-mile run.
The road course, still being finalized, will include “eye-candy” views of rivers and, hopefully, Mount Rainier, Philpot said, as riders head out of Maple Valley, potentially going through the Ravensdale, Black Diamond, and Enumclaw areas, before returning to the park. Competitors will then jump on the Green to Cedar Rivers Trail, which connects to the Cedar River Trail, to finish the triathlon’s final leg, she said, noting “100 percent of the run route will be on our gorgeous King County regional trail.”
Philpot, who has participated in five full triathlons, seven half-triathlons, and 13 standalone marathons since 2005, said Maple Valley businesses are enthused about the race.
“The local business community has just really been excited and asking how they can get involved,” she said. “I think that Maple Valley, the whole community is going to greet the race participants with open arms.”
She thinks there’s a good chance the race could become an annual event.
Dave Christen, regional director for The Ironman Group, said in a statement in December, when the event was announced, that the group was thrilled to bring an Ironman 70.3 back to Washington, which last hosted one in 2015 at Lake Stevens.
“Maple Valley, Washington will play host to one of the most enjoyable and accessible Ironman 70.3 triathlons in the U.S., in that everything will be hosted in one convenient location just outside of Seattle,” he said. “This late season Ironman 70.3 race in the Northwest provides a much-needed option for our new and returning athletes. Maple Valley is a place you will love to race in and a community you may not want to leave!”