In 1973, as distance running began to sweep the nation, Charleston optometrist Don Cohen had an idea for a running contest to coincide with the Sternwheel Regatta.
Working with city officials and the police department, Dr. Cohen mapped out a 15-mile course that winds through South Hills and the Capitol before ending at Laidley Field.
Thus the Charleston Distance Run was born and the run outlived the Regatta, which expired in 2008.
The run remains an important event but the calendar today includes many runs and walks through the city. Last year, Charleston hosted 26 such events at a cost of $45,000 to city taxpayers, said City Manager David Molgaard.
City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee proposed a fee for participants to pay for this. Under the plan, the city could waive the fee for some events involving nonprofit groups, but still, the potential significant cost hangs as a cloud for groups organizing athletic events.
The proposal poses a dilemma.
On the one hand, taxpayers cannot willy nilly spend $45,000 here and $45,000 there.
On the other hand, the city needs to promote healthy living. These runs encourage people to exercise and start running along Kanawha Boulevard and other scenic places.
On top of that, these runs and walks do bring in visitors and the city is trying to expand its hospitality industry. One of the town’s selling points is its quality of life.
Still, Molgaard has warned council’s Finance Committee of dark financial times ahead.
“It was clear that if (revenue and expenses) stayed constant and we don’t do anything, we are going to have a deficit of $6 million in five years if we don’t come up with new revenue or significant cuts in our budget,” Molgaard said on Monday.
City officials must balance fiscal prudence with the promotion of the city and healthier lifestyles.
On Monday, City Council voted 15-12 to send the proposal back to parks and recreation. Charleston has hosted runners for 41 years. Council members have to decide how that will continue for 41 more years or longer without harming City Hall’s bottom line.