Some locales land Tough Mudder without taxpayer dollars

The $110,000 subsidy that Santa Rosa County officials have voted to pay for-profit Tough Mudder Inc. in return for staging its military style endurance event near Milton next April is far more taxpayer funding than the New York-based company often receives.

“I hope they make a lot of money as long as we’re not going to pay them,” said Ken McFarland, the “judge-executive,” –or highest-ranking administrator– in Galletin County, Ky., where Tough Mudder is scheduled to hold a two-day event next June.

McFarland said Tough Mudder negotiated a private transaction with a local business to hold its competition at the Kentucky Speedway. He added, “I have no reason to finance them.”

In sharp contrast, District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson led a recent negotiation to bring Tough Mudder to Santa Rosa for the second time, but only for an up-front fee. In November Williamson helped persuade his fellow commissioners to pay the company $80,000 derived from tourism taxes on lodging plus $30,000 from a Florida Sports Foundation grant to be obtained by the county’s Economic Development Office.

Tough Mudder is being held on the Ates Ranch property in Milton and makes private transactions for participant and spectator parking at $20 per vehicle with land owners in the area.

Justifying the outlay of tax dollars, County Commission Chairman Lane Lynchard quoted from an economic development study commissioned by Tough Mudder that the event last March drew more than 4,000 participants and spectators and generated a $6.1 million economic impact.

Commissioner ignored tourism council

But the commission’s Nov. 12 approval of the $110,000 deal came in spite of a vote seven days earlier by the volunteer Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council to limit public spending on Tough Mudder to $20,000. The commissioners weren’t informed of the council’s recommendation for a lower largesse.

Tough Mudder’s financial arrangements with local communities and companies vary, company spokeswoman Judi Kovacs said in an email response to a reporter’s questions: “Tough Mudder will host over 60 events in 2016 and we work with each community differently to determine the level of support we receive for each event. Many factors will influence the level of support we require from each host community, and each market is different.”

Kovacs also said, “While the level of support received from Santa Rosa County for the 2016 event is less than what we typically receive from community partners eager to host our event, our strong partnership with the county as well as their support and the support from the community was key in influencing our decision to return to Milton in 2016.”

Williamson, who is the commission’s appointed representative on the council, didn’t attend the Florida Legislature-authorized group’s Nov. 5 meeting. At that gathering, Liz Horton, a panel member and hotel marketing executive, asked about paying so much to Tough Mudder, which doesn’t share profits from ticket sales or parking: “They get $1 million—what do we get?”

In addition to its county subsidy and event profits, Tough Mudder is seeking commissions of 15 percent from area hotels in return for promoting them on its website for the April event. Moreover, the company wants hoteliers to offer discount rates, set aside a block of rooms for the event and provide one out of every 20 rooms free of charge to guests.

Tough Mudder describes those terms as “partnering” with local accommodations.

But some lodging officials are balking. Laurie Gallup, owner of Navarre Properties Inc., said she doesn’t really need help from Tough Mudder in April, around spring break, to fill rooms. “And there are no cheap rooms on the beach in April.”

What’s more, Gallup and Horton asserted, the county’s planned $110,000 subsidy for Tough Mudder should be enough of an inducement.

Letting private enterprise work

Tough Mudder has put Smithville, Texas–population about 4,000–on its schedule for the second-straight year next May. While the company’s event is welcome, said Robert Campbell, Smithville’s city manager, “We support nothing” in the way of tourism events financially.

An official in surrounding Bastrop County, population about 75,000, said none of its public funds went to Tough Mudder either. “It’s a popular event, but we don’t have money for it. We’re a poor county,” said Adena Lewis, Bastrop’s coordinator of tourism and economic development.

Likewise in Fairburn, Ga., located in Fulton County about 25 miles from Atlanta, where Tough Mudder is also scheduled to be next May 7. Officials of both the city and county said the event hasn’t received any taxpayer dollars.

McFarland in Galletin County, Ky., underscored the stance of his municipal government toward Tough Mudder: “We let private enterprise work for themselves.”

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