ROANOKE, Va. – The Blue Ridge Marathon and Freedom First Down by Downtown contributed $1.6 million in regional economic impact as one of the first large in-person events held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2,800 runners registered for the Foot Levelers’ multiple race events, which were coupled with the four-day Down by Downtown music festival. The $1.6 million economic impact is a record single-year total, according to an analysis by the Roanoke Regional Partnership.
As the first large-scale event downtown since the pandemic hit, the event set a standard for hosting safe, in-person events, which will play a crucial role in the region’s economic recovery, according to the Roanoke Outside Foundation. The impact will provide a vital boost to the hospitality industry, of which a third of the jobs lost on a net basis because of the pandemic were a part of. Polling of local restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the area showed that the events drove an unprecedented amount of both local and out-of-town traffic into downtown.
“Race weekend has always had a positive impact on the businesses in Roanoke, especially the restaurants downtown,” said Jason Martin, owner of restaurants Martin’s Downtown and Sidecar. “We noticed increased traffic throughout the weekend and there were many first time and out-of-town visitors in our dining rooms. I personally observed many diners sporting marathon shirts that also stuck around for the live music. The whole weekend felt very festive!”
Post-race survey data showed the weekend created $920,000 in direct new sales activity, along with $680,000 in indirect and induced spending. ROF said activity surrounding the events will support 20 jobs in the regional economy over the period of one year.
“It’s amazing how impactful the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon is on our region,” said Foot Levelers CEO Kent S. Greenawalt. “Over the years these races have drawn participants from all over the world creating unforgettable experiences for the attendees, race partners and our community. We see increased exposure, increased economic impact, and we continually hear stories from visitors about how beautiful and unique our region is, and how many of them never knew all that Roanoke had to offer. That’s what it’s all about.”
56% of runners who participated in the event were from outside the Roanoke region, with people from 40 states and five countries. The average length of stay for overnight visitors was 1.9 nights.
$10,000 in proceeds from this year’s marathon went to 14 nonprofits that supported runners before, during and after the race. In total, the ROF has donated $210,750 to local organizations as a result of the marathon.