WOODLAND — The City Council on Monday stood firm in its opposition to Blooms to Brews, declining to even vote on a request to reconsider permits for the notable marathon race next year.
“I’d like to apologize on behalf of myself and all involved … for any lack of respect or courtesy we have shown,” organizer Elba Benzler told the council Monday evening. “We have somehow let you down, and I am asking for a chance to make it right.”
He noted that the event brings hotel and retail revenue into the city, including one convenience store alone drawing in an extra $1,500 the weekend of the event. And he asked the council to “help us understand” where his team went wrong in not following traffic control plans or improperly closing roads. Several citizens also asked the council to give Benzler another chance.
“It’s the only reason I ever come to Woodland, Washington, and I would like to continue doing that,” Milwaukie, Ore., resident Ted Welty said.
Blooms to Brews features races from a 5K to a marathon and has occurred every April in Woodland since 2013. It is a qualifying marathon for those seeking to compete in the Boston Marathon, and this year it drew in nearly 1,500 competitors and about 500 spectators, Benzler said last week.
The council originally declined to reinstate the event in its June 3 meeting. Mayor Will Finn, citing years of traffic snarls, citizen complaints and inadequate clean-up, recommended the council deny Benzler from holding the event in 2020 and going forward.
Council member Benjamin Fredericks said there was no support among council members to bring the event back.
“It went through the initial application process, and it was denied,” Fredericks said. “In my mind, if I’m Mr. Benzler or that group, I would say, ‘Hey, I’ll resubmit an application and see if the process can be started over.’ ”
Finn said after the City Council meeting that while he appreciated the concerns of Benzler’s supporters and the spotlight the marathon brought to Woodland, he has “absolutely not” changed his mind.
“We tried to work with this gentlemen for year after year after year,” Finn said. “We’ve addressed the complaints. Every year we have a debrief, and we talk about the issues, and it’s always the same issues.”
Park Road, the main artery though Horseshoe Lake Park, was closed the Saturday before the event without prior planning, Finn said.
Benzler said Tuesday that he couldn’t have shut down the road since they held racer packet pickup there. At most, part of the road might have been closed for 30 minutes to assemble race equipment, Benzler said.
Finn also cited trash left behind and equipment left out three days after the event ended. Benzler said Tuesday that he wasn’t made aware of the problem and that the equipment rental company took responsibility for their delay in cleaning up. But Finn said city staff had called Benzler multiple times each day after the races to remind him the equipment was still there.
“He’s the event organizer,” Finn said. “He should have been here to make sure that equipment was gone.”
One way or another, communication broke down. Benzler said he was hearing some of these claims for the first time on Tuesday.
Finn said the city has “bent over backwards” to try to make the event successful, such as by giving Benzler’s organization thousands of advertising dollars through lodging tax money. And he questioned Benzler’s decision to choose the McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge — instead of a Woodland hotel — for the event’s host hotel in 2019.
“Why are you going to Kalama?” Finn said. “You’re using Kalama, but you’re using our dollars to advertise, taking your dollars to another community. … That’s not being a good partner. That’s just another example of the lack of partnership on their end. This was a one-sided deal.”
Benzler admitted that “hindsight is 2020” and said he should have worked harder to make a local businesses the host hotel.
This year was the final straw, Finn said.
“Is there going to be a little bit of loss, economically? Yes,” Finn said. “It’s one weekend. … There are other things that we can do.”
Benzler is holding out hope that the City will give him one last chance to reconcile their relationship. It would be “difficult, but not impossible” to move the event elsewhere, he said.
“I’m hopeful that they’re chewing on this information, and … at least one of them will say, I’d like to bring this back up again.”