Three-way Loss: An Economic Development Lesson in the Cancellation of Triathlon Event in Torrance Beach

Canceling a scheduled triathlon event just four days before it is supposed to take place is a loss for athletes, the event organizer, and the city. While the potential was a win-win-win, a dispute over payments for traffic control and other city public safety costs scuttled the Los Angeles Triathlon scheduled for September 11, 2016 at Torrance Beach.

We see many cities around the country seek out weekend events that will draw out-of-town visitors to their community to enhance the quality of life for local residents, give a boost to local businesses, and attract new tax revenue for the city. These type of one-time events impose unique costs which cities need to account for – typically by imposing fees for traffic control and public safety. It is at the intersection of community development and city costs that it seems the city of Torrance and the triathlon organizer hit head on.

Pacific Sports, the promoter and organizer of the Los Angeles Triathlon and other sporting events for more than 35 years, claims the city of Torrance unilaterally cancelled the LA Triathlon just four days before it was scheduled to take place on September 11th. Pacific Sports claims the city demanded “advanced payment, in full, to the city, prior to the event, for city services. There was no detail of the charges, simply amounts in total and the requirement to bring two cashier’s checks by 5pm. This is not standard practice in other municipalities and certainly not in those where all previous invoices had been paid in a timely fashion.” The promoters were also directed to make a payment to a neighboring city which would be affected by the temporary road closures.

A press release from the city claims the advanced payment is standard operating procedure. “Estimated expenses have always been payable in advance of an event; any adjustments and reimbursements are made once actual billings are finalized.”

It is important to note that the city hosted the LA Triathlon, organized by the same promoter, for the last two years. But it seems like there was already bad blood based on the statement by Pacific Sports claiming that “after an audit requested by Pacific Sports, the city had significantly overbilled us by an amount in excess of 30% to the total in 2015 for city services. We have strong evidence that the 2014 invoice may have been overbilled as well. Importantly, we have no reliability that the advance payment demanded for 2016 (without detail of its calculation) is backed up by verifiable charges which will only be available after the event has occurred.”

It’s hard to say definitively to whom the athletes should direct their anger over the cancelled event but it’s clearly a lose-lose-lose for the 400 athletes set to compete, the city that was set to gain economically from the weekend event, and the promoters who have to refund or transfer registration fees. Perhaps greater transparency about the event’s costs and impact could have helped the city and the promoter play nicely together.

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