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114th Boston Marathon

Financial bumps get smoothed out

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / April 12, 2010

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Training along the Boston Marathon course in Hopkinton, Brian Herr scans the roadway for potential race-day problems. He looks for potholes. He notes the sandy grime left behind by winter. He surveys damage done by record March rains. One week from today, Herr wants the 25,000-plus runners who will compete in the 114th running to see Hopkinton at its best.

Running the 26.2-mile race for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is his passion. Preparing Hopkinton for race day is part of his job as chairman of the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen.

“We want to showcase our community,’’ said Herr, who will run his 21st straight Boston Marathon this year. “We go all out to clean it up. We re-line the streets. We sweep up all the dirt. We put flags along the route. We really try to put a fresh face on the community for all the people from around the world that come here.’’

The marathon puts Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston front and center on the world’s sports stage. At least for a day. For town officials from the eight communities, a smooth-running, uneventful race day is the payoff for months of preparation. They know the historic event can be an opportunity to promote the town. It can also be a strain on community resources, an expensive, annual disruption to everyday life.

At considerable cost and inconvenience, the towns and cities ensure crowds are under control and roads are race ready. The long-term planning of marathon communities rivals that of runners.

Herr said Hopkinton spends from $50,000 to $65,000 annually. Inclement weather means more expenses before, during, and after the race. Ashland, according to town officials, is looking at expenses totaling roughly $20,000. Last year, the marathon cost Brookline $37,934, a figure that covers the supplies and overtime hours needed by the Department of Public Works, as well as the police and fire departments, said Town Administrator Richard Kelliher. The town expects similar expenses this year, as Kelliher notes the marathon has “become part of the institutional fabric’’.

Well aware of the time and resources invested, the Boston Athletic Association makes annual donations to each of the communities along the marathon route. The communities can then use the monies however they wish. This year, $713,000 coming from the BAA and John Hancock will be divided among the eight communities and the state, with some receiving more funds than others. In the past, unequal distribution of funds and greater attention paid to certain communities didn’t sit well with the towns given the lowest amounts.

Last year, officials in Ashland, Framingham, Natick, and Wellesley delayed the approval of marathon permits, which allow the race to pass through their communities. The economic downturn combined with the rising costs of hosting the marathon and race-day losses for local businesses concerned officials. During a meeting with the BAA, the towns voiced their concerns, then signed the permits in the days that followed. The process went smoothly this year.

“We talked about some of the things that go along with a major event of this nature,’’ said Ashland Town Manager John Petrin of the meeting. “It’s not just the day of the race. We want people to understand that. It wasn’t a controversy. It wasn’t something that was broken. We simply wanted to convey our thoughts to the BAA.’’

Situated in the early and middle portions of the course, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, and Wellesley are often overshadowed by the other communities along the route. These towns don’t stage the start or the finish or boast famous landmarks such as Heartbreak Hill that garner attention. Plus, on Patriots Day, runners typically spend the shortest amount of time passing through them. Still, the communities wanted more recognition — financially and otherwise — for what they mean to the race.

Petrin mentioned how elite runners make prerace appearances in Hopkinton and Boston. In the future, he hopes they can do the same in Ashland and other communities.

“I admit to not having gone to the communities to get their feedback soon enough or enough,’’ said BAA executive director Guy Morse. “When we started to reach out to the communities, they were very quick to verbalize their concerns. They want to be understood, communicated with, and have a mutual respect for what the issues of the day are.’’

While the relationship between the BAA and the communities along the course evolves, the philosophy behind the donations remains as it was when the program started in 1986.

“We thought it was important to support the communities that have supported the event for so long,’’ said Morse of the payments that started the same year the marathon offered elite runners prize money. “There’s a tendency to take the support and the partnerships for granted.

“The marathon had been run for decades and you can rely on tradition only for so long. You need to recognize and support the people who help you succeed. We thought this was the perfect way to demonstrate to the communities that they’re important to us and they’re part of our success. We really felt that if we had the ability and the desire to pay the elite athletes, we also had the ability and desire to pay the communities that support the event.’’

When the donations started, $112,500 was divided among the marathon communities and the state, according to BAA records. Donations have been budgeted through 2012. With annual increases taken into account, the BAA and John Hancock plan to distribute a total of $755,000 in 2011 and $818,000 in 2012, bringing the total to $10,004,743 over 27 years.

Since the eight communities along the course play different-sized roles on race day, they receive different sums of money. The amount is loosely based on how many miles are covered within a particular town, how long it takes for all the runners to pass through, and how much preparation and staging is involved.

Slightly more than 4 miles of the course pass through Natick and the town will receive $32,000 this year. Meanwhile, the stretch in Brookline is roughly half as long, but the town will get $38,000. The difference? The crowds are less dense in Natick and the runners are less strung out.

By the time runners reach Newton, the dense, sweaty mass stretches for several miles and is slowing down. In Brookline, it can take several hours for all the runners to pass, requiring roads to be closed longer and town employees to stay on duty longer for crowd control and other services.

The communities of Hopkinton and Boston, where the race starts and ends, respectively, will be given the largest amounts.

With the starting area and the first 2 miles of the course, Hopkinton will get $72,000 this year. As the place for multiple days of marathon-related activities and site for elaborate finish-line staging, Boston will receive $238,000.

All eight communities can cover their marathon-related costs with the BAA/John Hancock donations, if that’s how they choose to spend the money. The BAA places no stipulations on how towns use the money, but it also likes to see funds go toward the promotion of youth activities and youth fitness. And every community puts at least some money toward that cause.

“We make these funds available based on our ability to pay,’’ said Morse. “Now, everyone seems to be happy with the support, the attention that they’re getting from us. My promise is to continue giving that attention. The next step is to go back to these communities and help them set up kids’ programs at whatever level is important to their town.’’

After all, the BAA and the communities along the marathon course take a much longer view of the 26.2-mile race.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.