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"Most people were really happy with what was said and were a lot more confident," said Elizabeth Jenkins, the marketing assistant for Salt Lake Running Company. "They’re under a lot of pressure to pull this off, but I think they’re going to rise to the challenge. We certainly hope so. … There’s no reason why it should be a bad race."
U.S. Road Sports owns a portfolio of popular races around the country, including the Miami Marathon, the Georgia Marathon and a series of well-regarded half-marathons seemingly free of the kind of problems the Salt Lake City Marathon has endured.
It also bought the New Jersey Marathon last year from Devine, and Handy said the company might also buy his Palm Beaches Marathon in Florida, along with several other smaller races.
"He wants to get out of the running business," Handy said. "We’d like to just scoop it all up."
Devine has refused to comment to The Tribune since the sale, apparently unhappy with the newspaper’s reporting about his business practices.
Yet even Handy said that Devine’s mismanagement is one of the reasons he likes to buy races from him.
"When you buy something from Chris Devine, in all likelihood you’re buying something that has negative sentiment," he said. But "we’re a bigger and better organization, so I love buying stuff from him. I don’t like the baggage that you have to go though. But you get through it, like anything else, and you have an asset that’s worth more money than what you bought originally, which is good business practice."
Handy said the race will employ Special Events Management of Chicago as a subcontractor to run the race this year, because it has the personnel "firepower" needed to pull off the race on a tight schedule.
Its CEO is Hank Zemola, who worked last year under similar circumstances as co-race director for Devine’s marathon in Florida, where organizers ran out of water for the runners.
Zemola called that "inexcusable," the result of poor planning, and promised it would never happen again.
His company handles dozens of other events a year, including the massive Taste of Chicago food expo, though Handy said he doesn’t expect to need to hire it again next year, when U.S. Road Sports will have a whole year to plan for the race.
For now, Handy vows that he will pay all of his workers and vendors promptly — though not for Devine’s past debts — provide better race T-shirts and finisher medals, and work to build the race into a source of pride for the community.
He said he probably will have to move the finish line from the middle of the Gateway shopping complex because of construction in the area, but he doesn’t want to move the race to May because of the increased possibility of warm weather — anathema to marathon runners.
What he also wants, above all else, is for runners to give him a chance.
"We can’t ask them to assume the best," he acknowledged. "We just don’t want them to assume the worst."
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