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Savannah puts the brakes on its largest road race

April 23, 2022 GMT

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Officials in Savannah have put the brakes on the city’s largest road race.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon has brought tens of thousands of runners to Georgia’s picturesque founding city since first adding Savannah to its race roster in 2011. But Mayor Van Johnson says the city won’t be granting marathon organizers a permit, or paying them the required $25,000 contract fee, this year.

Organizers released a statement saying a comeback in 2023 appears unlikely. They had intended to return to Savannah this fall and runners had been registering for the race before City Hall announced its decision Monday.

Johnson told news outlets Savannah needs a break from the marathon to evaluate whether it’s worth the cost — not just in taxpayer money for sanitation and extra police, but also in hassles to residents and businesses impacted by street closures. He said the city has recouped “a relatively very small percentage” of what it has spent on the event.

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“We deserve the opportunity to discuss more favorable terms on behalf of the city, this community, and our residents,” Johnson said.

The marathon averaged up to 16,000 runners each year, according to Visit Savannah, the city’s tourism bureau. It previously reported that the 2019 marathon had an economic impact of $23 million.

Michael Owens, president of Savannah’s Tourism Leadership Council, said the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon gave the city’s hospitality industry a needed shot in the arm during what’s otherwise a slow period for tourists right before the holidays.

“To be honest with you, it’s devastating,” Owens told WTOC-TV. “I’ve gotten more phone calls about this than anything. I’ve gotten more calls about the cancellation of Rock ‘n’ Roll than I did in the beginning of the pandemic.”

After being cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic and returning on a smaller scale last fall, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon had been expected to make a full comeback in November before city officials pulled the plug.

The mayor said he’s confident Savannah will thrive whether or not the marathon eventually returns.

“We’ve been here since 1733,” Johnson said. “We’ve dealt with disappointment before.”