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The best company should be chosen to take over for Dam to Dam. Not first come, first served.
That’s what happened, unfortunately, when the Des Moines City Council approved the street use permit of newcomer RipRoar Events LLC for the Saturday date after Memorial Day in 2019. RipRoar and founder Michael Zimmerman was chosen over the Iowa Sports Foundation, which produces the Summer and Winter Iowa Games.
Zimmerman admitted in a Monday Des Moines Register article that he knew the Dam to Dam board would discontinue the race as far back as April of 2016. So when Dam to Dam produced a press release on the morning of Monday, Sept. 17, with a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. that afternoon, Zimmerman knew what was coming. One wonders if he was at City Hall waiting to file the street use application at 2:01 p.m.
After my article on Dam to Dam’s was released right after 2 p.m., Iowa Sports Foundation president Chuck Long responded in an email to the Register that he would be interested in taking over the event. He was already too late and the City Council admitted so in its meeting Monday.
“I can’t say who is a good operator or a bad operator, but we’re here to decide what are the rules of the game,” Councilman Chris Coleman said in the Register article. “I don’t see my support changing from RipRoar because I think they were first in line.”
The City Council is making a huge error in awarding the permit to RipRoar. Here’s why:
1. The Iowa Sports Foundation has a staff of 10 that includes a marketing and communications director. The foundation puts on one of the biggest participant events in the state, the Summer Iowa Games. They’ve been successfully producing this event since 1987. They added the highly success Winter Iowa Games in 1992. They also host four levels of the Iowa Senior Games and have an Adaptive Sports Iowa arm that holds a number of events. They run the Iowa Games Mud Run and Des Moines Corporate Games. They produce Live Healthy Iowa and their 10 Week Wellness Challenge. Their Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Bourke, is a former Iowa State cross country coach. They have experience across the board in producing quality events year after year.
The Iowa Sports Foundation has a five-person executive board of directors that oversees the foundation and ensures a high level of transparency. ISF also has a board that is a who’s who of Iowans: University of Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, both Iowa high school athletic association directors and former Governor Chet Culver, to name a few.
On the ISF website splash page, they prominently list their toll-free phone number and email address. Each of the 10 staff members has their own direct line. The Iowa Sports Foundation is accountable … and going nowhere.
Then there’s RipRoar, a company started by Zimmerman in 2014. I’ve talked to Zimmerman a couple times and found him likable. Make no mistake, he’s a triathlon fanatic first, learning the business by working odd jobs with Bill Burke at Premier Event Management after graduating from the University of Iowa 10 years ago. He also has worked on the Hy-Vee Triathlon before venturing out on his own in 2014 to start the RipRoar Youth Triathlon Series in 2014. His website (www.riproarevents.com) focuses almost exclusively on triathlon. His splash page says: Welcome to RipRoar, The Next Generation of Triathlon.
He produced a nice Des Moines Women’s Half Marathon last May and a successful Des Moines Turkey Trot last month with 3,500 participants. But a “Dam to Downtown” race replacing Dam to Dam? That’s another story. Should he put his RipRoar Youth Triathlon Series that includes sites in North Mankato, Quad Cities, West Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Johnston aside to focus on the mammoth project that would be the successor to Dam to Dam?
For perspective, Dam to Dam has been put on by a 25-to-30 member all-volunteer committee for many years. Six of the seven board members were ready to call it quits in September, burned out by years of working tirelessly for this race. Will Zimmerman and his small staff be able to handle all aspects of an 8,000-person race – busing people up to the Saylorville Dam, city permits and logistics, a big prerace and postrace party? And do it year after year after year?
My feeling is his organization is similar to one run by Des Moines Marathon race director Chris Burch. Burch utilizes a big all-volunteer committee to produce the marathon each October. He also has produced the Grand Blue Mile and Drake Relays Road Races in April in recent years, as well as a small race in Beaverdale each September. That’s about it. He doesn’t overextend himself. I’m worried Zimmerman will be stretched too thin now if he shares his time between triathlons and running races.
2. The successor to Dam to Dam should follow closely in its predecessors footsteps. This is where the current Dam to Dam board of directors let the greater running public down. Back in 2016, Dam to Dam sent one board member out on a mission to gauge race companies’ interest in buying the Dam to Dam rights. It wasn’t a very exhaustive search. The Pink Gorilla Events group that pulls off the Leprechaun Chase and Market to Market Relay was contacted. So was RipRoar. Neither met the ideals set by the Dam and Dam board – possibly because they are for-profit companies – and didn’t make the cut.
Burch, despite a strong local presence and history of pulling off excellent races, wasn’t contacted. Neither was the Iowa Sports Foundation. It was a bad vetting process.
James Cornick, a former Dam to Dam board member, has been keeping me in the know on some of these details. He was certain the Iowa Sports Foundation was the right choice to take over. He contacted Bourke and spent almost a month trying to convince the Dam to Dam board to consider the ISF as the successor. Cornick also said the ISF gained permits for the Saylorville Dam and the county roads going into Des Moines before RipRoar. So ISF had legitimate interest.
Cornick said Dam to Dam finally agreed to meet with the Iowa Sports Foundation and had apparently warmed to ISF taking over that weekend. But by Monday, the City Council was ready to make a move, despite the correct apprehension by Mayor Frank Cownie to table the discussion until January. RipRoar flooded the council chambers with supporters. No Dam to Dam board member was there to support ISF. They dropped the ball again.
The City Council should reconsider its decision. Dam to Dam has earned the right after 38 successful years to hand-pick its successor. Why? Because for one weekend each May or June, the typically dormant Des Moines downtown of the 1980s and 1990s came to life. Families came to town for the weekend, spending time and crucially money at hotels and restaurants. There weren’t many good things you could say about Des Moines at that time. Dam to Dam was one of them. The city needs to do more research and look into which company would keep the Dam to Dam tradition providing a quality, family-friendly race and amenities for a reasonable fee. Which brings me to my last and possibly most important, point.
3. As mentioned, RipRoar is a for-profit company and the Iowa Sports Foundation is not. Big difference. Dam to Dam also acted as a non-profit by putting its profits back into the community and race. Some money has been held in reserve, Cornick said, in case of a natural disaster where all participants would be refunded. But this money will eventually go back to the community, co-race director Kurt Schaeffer told me. Dam to Dam kept its entry fees low while offering a great prerace party, quality shirts and excellent postrace food. I know the Iowa Sports Foundation would have followed many of the Dam to Dam ideals and while keeping fees low because they’ve done it with the Iowa Games and other events.
RipRoar? Who knows. While the ISF prominently lists its contact numbers, RipRoar has none. They have no known mailing address. The only way to contact Zimmerman is through the company email. Very low accountability. And, as Cornick points out, what happens to the race if Zimmerman decides to leave for a job with Ironman Triathlon?
I reached out to Zimmerman for this article and to see his vision for “Dam to Downtown”, but he did not contact me. If you do some research, however, you’d be foolish to believe that the cost of a “Dam to Downtown” race won’t dramatically rise from Dam to Dam’s 2018 prices. Take for instance RipRoar’s Des Moines Women’s Half Marathon coming up in May. If you sign up now for the event, it will cost you a cool $70. If you wait until March 16, the cost goes up to $80. Participants get a activewear half-zip shirt, engraved wine glass and glass of wine. That’s all nice, but for $80? Giving away these additional “swag” items just doesn’t resonate with the Dam to Dam crowd. Give them lots and lots of prerace food sandwiches, chips and M&Ms, not engraved wine glasses. If Zimmerman is wise, he keeps the ideals, and prices, of Dam to Dam going. But because he runs a for-profit company, all bets are off.
The city council should have done more research and put more thought into who should be awarded the permit. Because the successor should be closely aligned in philosophy with the soon-to-be defunct race. And that’s the Iowa Sports Foundation.
Mile posts: The successor to Dam to Dam should be … have 1633 words, post on www.desmoinesregister.com at 2017-12-07 07:28:24. This is cached page on USA Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.