It's recognized as a premier event for athletes and a big boost for off-season tourism, but some Bay County residents consider the Ironman Florida triathlon to be a major inconvenience.
On Tuesday, the Tourist Development Council (TDC) asked county commissioners to approve the route for this year's event – the same route as last year's.
Commissioners acknowledged not everyone is a fan of the event but said a few hours of hassle create a lasting economic impact. "Every year, we hear from a handful of people that are inconvenienced and that's kind of part of living in the dynamic area that we live in," Commissioner Guy Tunnell said.
The TDC said the Ironman Florida triathlon is a huge part of its sports marketing program because it generates demand for Panama City Beach as a tourist destination during the critical off-peak season.
The race includes swim, bicycle and run segments and its use of Bay County roadways impacts local motorists, especially along State Road 79 at Back Beach Road. The bike course utilizes SR-79, SR-20, SR-77 and County Road 388.
Commissioner Mike Thomas said the county fields complaints when roads are closed for Christmas, July 4 and Veterans Day parades. "If you're not involved in it, you're usually mad at it," Thomas said.
Tunnell said there's no way to come up with a triathlon route that pleases everyone. "I think the TDC in this case has done a good job of trying to work with the triathlon officials [and] local law enforcement to come up with the best plan that they possibly can," Tunnell said.
Thomas said completion of the four-laning of SR-79 and new roads near Pier Park North will give race organizers more options. "Some of these things hopefully over the next few years will make it more palatable for people," Thomas said. "It's not as bad as it was and it's getting better every year."
The 2013 Ironman Florida triathlon is scheduled for Saturday, November 2.