2013-03-22 / Front Page

Archaic rule clouds plan for fundraiser

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Organizers of the Color Run want to make South Portland one of the stops on the national tour of the popular 5K road race, but city councilors aren’t sure the Willard Square neighborhood has the space to accommodate the thousands of participants.

The Color Run’s website describes it as “the happiest 5K on the planet.” Runners show up dressed in white T-shirts, and are doused with a nontoxic colored cornstarch powder each kilometer, covering the runners in color by the time they reach the finish line.

In each city, Color Run partners with a local charity, to which it makes a donation from a portion of the proceeds. The partner for the proposed Maine race, scheduled to take place Sunday, July 7, is the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Deirdre Banks, development coordinator for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, recently attended a Color Run in Charlotte, N.C. She said the familyfriendly nature of the event made it a natural match when she was planning a new fundraiser.

“The energy and the excitement of the event, you couldn’t help but catch it,” Banks said. “The excitement when (runners) were getting out of the cars was contagious.”

Recent races in cities like San Francisco, Las Vegas and Columbia, S.C. have drawn an average of 10,000 to 15,000 rainbow-colored runners, but South Portland a government officials aren’t sure their city can handle that crowd.

The proposed South Portland route would send runners through the Southern Maine Community College campus before swinging down to Smith Street and looping back up Fort Road to the waterfront again.

“Personally, I do not feel this area can accommodate 15,000 entrants. I’m quite concerned,” said Mayor Tom Blake at a March 4 council meeting.

In an interview March 15, Blake said he would like to see the number of race entrants capped at 5,000. Even that number would put a strain on the area, he said, considering the volunteers, spectators and supporters needed to stage the event.

Complicating an already-unclear result is an outdated city ordinance that has remained largely ignored in South Portland for decades.

Chapter 17 of the code of ordinances deals with miscellaneous offenses. Section 13-a of that chapter reads, “No persons shall congregate on Sunday before 12:00 noon for the purpose of playing any game or indulging in any sport, exercise or recreation.”

The ordinance is still on the books from the 1960s, and Blake guessed it was put in when South Portland was much more religious community. Today, he said, the ordinance is “ludicrous and outdated.”

The council has allowed recreational events to take place Sunday mornings in the past, including the Tri for a Cure, which brings more than 1,000 participants and many spectators and supporters to SMCC. But because of the size and scale of the Color Run, councilors believe the ordinance will need to be addressed before the race application can be approved.

“It’s been around for decades and decades and we’ve never really addressed it, but it could be carried to extremes. We need to deal with it,” Councilor Linda Cohen said at the March 4 meeting.

The council will hold a workshop on Monday, March 25 with representatives of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and race organizers to work through councilors’ questions. At the same workshop, councilors plan to deal with the outdated ordinance.

The application for the road race was approved by city staff before the council postponed a decision on street closures at its March 4 meeting. The race will require closing portions of six streets in the area on race day.

Blake said he was “clueless” and “disappointed” as to why questions around the size of the race weren’t brought up by city staff, but he believes the right decision was reached to hold the workshop.

In addition to the capacity of the Willard Square neighborhood, councilors also plan to bring up a few other issues at the upcoming workshop, including how the organizers of the Color Run split the profits between the Barbara Bush Foundation and their own for-profit company, based in Utah.

The charitable donation is not part of the city’s event application, which includes information about street closures, food and drink, amplified sound and the event map. Blake said in the case of a local nonprofit applicant such as Maine Cancer Foundation, the council doesn’t need that information to give its approval. However, with an outside for-profit company coming in, that information is pertinent.

Councilor Alan Livingston agreed.

“I think it’s great that Barbara Bush is going to benefit money from this, but yet if this is a big moneymaker for a person, I’m curious to say, how much is going to Barbara Bush and how much is going to Utah?” Livingston asked at the March 4 meeting.

Banks could not estimate the dollar value to benefit the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, but she said a portion of all registration fees benefit the charity, as well as all proceeds from community sponsors.

Seth King, race director of the Color Run, chose not to comment for the story, explaining he would prefer to wait to publicly comment until he had a chance to answer councilors’ questions at the workshop. However, King did say he was optimistic the race organizers and the city could work through the issues to find a solution.

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