Wiedmer: May Chattanooga never lose the Ironman competitions

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Spokane, Washington, resident Drew Jordan wins the Ironman competition on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga's traffic patterns returned to normal Monday evening. All those annoying orange cones and road closure signs were back in storage, wherever that may be. Another Ironman competition was in the books, taking its brief traffic headaches for the Scenic City with it.

And let's face it, there are times, especially if you're in a hurry, when you might wish, if only for a moment, we could be rid of the Ironman and its road disruptions and restaurant wait times and all those visitors who probably look a whole lot more fit and healthy than you and me -- and who wants to be reminded of that?

But it's Tim Morgan's job to bring such events to the city and it's in all of our best interests to embrace an event that is said to bring $10 million or more into our town's restaurants, hotels and chops each time the full-blown Ironman comes here, and it's called Chattanooga home since 2014.

"The current contract is up next year," said Morgan on Tuesday evening. "We don't have the numbers in yet for this year, but it's typically been one of our top economic generators, right up there with the Head of the Hooch Regatta and just behind a couple of youth softball tournaments.

"What makes it an interesting anomaly is that it's an amazing variety of continuous positive comments about the competitors' experiences here. Whether it's the restaurants, or the hotels, or the volunteers -- especially the volunteers -- everybody feels so welcomed and wanted here. No one ever complains. And that's never dipped or wavered in all the years we've been hosting the full or half-Ironman."

This is the part you can't fake. You can't fake community-wide pride and hospitality. What happens here at these events is, to use a modern phrase, organic. It's natural. It's probably who we've always been, even when the city wasn't really worthy of being shown off to the world 45 to 60 years ago.

But then the late, great philanthropist Jack Lupton spearheaded the building of the Aquarium. The Chattanooga Lookouts moved to Hawk Hill. The North Shore blossomed. The Riverwalk grew. Now it looks as if the same facelift will benefit the Southside, bringing with it a new baseball stadium to anchor Main Street's commercial renaissance, and seemingly more apartment and condo developments than we currently have citizens.

And all that, or at least much of it, is likely necessary to continue to attract money makers such as the Ironman or the Head of the Hooch. You can't move forward from neutral. Morgan's work is a constant competition against cities across the entire country who are craving the same entertainment dollars we are.

Right now he and his team at the Chattanooga Sports Commission, a division of Chattanooga Tourism Company, are attempting to bring the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials to the Scenic City prior to the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, France.

That wouldn't just attract world-class athletes. It might bring national television coverage of our nation's finest distance runners racing along the Tennessee River, or maybe up a steep hill in North Chattanooga or through serene and pristine Chickamauga Battlefield. And all of that would be positive publicity you can't buy.

There could also be a softball tourney in the wings that could pull in 500 teams. And then there's that Ironman contract to renew, which could keep filling hotels and restaurants and shops for a long weekend each year for many years to come.

"We have to make sure it's good for everyone," Morgan said of the Ironman contract renewal. "So we'll be asking lots of questions of our merchants and civic leaders over the next few months. But the Ironman brings a ton of money into the city, and all those athletes, friends and family members who visit here do so much to help sell Chattanooga by what they say about it. Just Sunday morning as the swim was wrapping up, I met a couple who moved here because of how much they fell in love with the city when competing in the Ironman here. Now they volunteer every year. And we hear those stories all the time."

So perhaps it's time for all of us, or at least the vast majority of us not too undone by the road closures and the restaurant wait times, to fill our chests with civic pride over our special brand of Southern hospitality. Yes, there are things that need fixing here. Desperately. Always. Public education. Homelessness. Racial frustrations. The interstate.

But judging by the comments of those who visit us, there's also much more good than bad here.

Or as this year's Ironman women's winner, Amy Corrigan, told this newspaper on Sunday, "This town puts on an awesome race."

And as my colleague Jay Greeson is prone to write, that's awesome in its awesomeness.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.