- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

In 40 days, the Marine Corps Marathon will be filling the D.C. Armory with its runner’s expo, but the armory already is filled with 200-250 Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Will the D.C. Armory be vacated in time for the expo, which is Oct. 28-29?

“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Rick Nealis, director of the Marine Corps Marathon. “Wish I knew. Nobody from the D.C. Armory or the D.C. government knows when the 200 to 250 displacements are going to leave the armory. They’re trying to get them processed and on their way. They initially told us that we’re not going to have the armory. We have to think that the way things are in D.C., they will still be there at the end of October.”

But the marathon may be safe from interruption.

“Without being too specific here, all indications are that the events during the latter part of [October] will not be affected,” said Tony Robinson, director of public affairs for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which is responsible for the management and operation of the D.C. Armory. “But if the mayor’s office says we need to keep the armory open for the evacuees, we will.”

But Nealis said he has been seeking alternative locations.

The problem is that the race has grown so much. With 30,000 runners and their entourages and more than 200 vendors, Nealis needs a room with 60,000 square feet. During the last 30 years, the marathon has outgrown the area hotels, including the Hyatt Crystal City, its one-time home.

“But like a good Marine, I am already out there looking,” Nealis said. “The plan is still to go to the D.C. Armory, but I am close to the point where I need to make a decision. There are not many solutions for somebody looking for 60,000 square feet around here. I’m planning for the worst, that we will be out of there. So I’m probably looking at a tent solution. We have a floor plan worked out already, probably in the RFK [Stadium] parking lot.”

Nealis said he is puzzled by the lack of assistance from the D.C. government.

“I can’t get anybody in D.C. to get excited,” he said. “The race will have a $30million to $40million economic impact on the area this year. I just can’t believe that. It’s frustrating. This is an international world-class event.

“Yet I’m inside 35 days with no guarantee. I think a week from today [he will make the decision to not use the armory and move forward with an alternative plan by Friday]. That gives me 28 days, and those aren’t all work days.”

Obviously, the armory officials are stuck between a rock and a cot.

“I think what they said to everybody who had events here is we are committed to keeping the armory open to evacuees as long as the mayor wants it to be open,” Robinson said. “As of now, we have not canceled those events after October 9.”

But when asked when officials will make the final decision on giving the marathon access to the armory on Oct.28, Robinson said: “I don’t know.”

No news on Washington D.C. Marathon — Are you there, Bob Sweeney? Sweeney, the executive director of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, once said the GWSA was seriously exploring the revival of the Washington D.C. Marathon — with the goal of a spring 2006 return date. But he has not returned several phone calls during the past six months.

Lee Corrigan, president of the Corrigan Sports Enterprises and race director of the Baltimore Marathon, has had the same problem.

“I had been in contact with the Greater Washington Sports Alliance — Bob Sweeney — about a D.C. marathon,” Corrigan said. “For two years, nobody has pulled the trigger, nothing has been done. I haven’t heard from him in a long time. I’ve given up chasing the guy around with calls, with e-mails.”

For the past two years, all indications have been that Corrigan would head any D.C. marathon charge.

“It was my understanding that we were going to be the ones to execute this event,” he said.

Nealis agrees.

“Corrigan is going to be the lead in it,” Nealis said. “[GWSA] still wants to do a March 2006 marathon. But they haven’t even bought a booth at our expo yet, which is what you’d want to do now to promote a spring race.”

Overwhelming turnout — Officials at the Gulf Coast Relief 5K yesterday morning in Old Town Alexandria had hoped for 800 runners, but more than 3,200 came out and donated at least $115,000 to the cause.


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