ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The city of St. Petersburg will give a road race organizer a third chance to make a first impression, inviting it to bring the “St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon” back to town in March 2017.

Competitor Group Inc., a San Diego company best-known for its “Rock ‘n’ Roll” half marathon series, drew disappointing crowds to the event in St. Petersburg in 2012 and 2013 – despite receiving $130,000 in public subsidies each year – before pulling out of the market prior to 2014’s event. It also purchased the successful St. Pete Women’s Half Marathon from a local company, only to cancel the race two months before its Nov. 2014 running.

But Competitor Group Inc. (CGI) was the largest company to submit a bid during the city’s recent RFP seeking race organizers to bring a half-marathon back to Downtown St. Pete. And, unlike its previous events in St. Pete, the Competitor Group said in its application that it would not request any public subsidies at the onset of the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. However, it kept the option open in its application:

“CGI would be interested in a partnership with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission should the opportunity arise.”

Unlike CGI’s robust projections ahead of the 2012 and 2013 races that never materialized, the company only projected 7,000 runners for a March 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon in St. Pete. It projected 7,500 and 8,000 runners for the 2018 and 2019 races, respectively.

In 2012, CGI projected 12,000-15,000 runners but only 7,021 completed the St. Pete Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. The following year, only 4,379 runners completed the race.

The race was also plagued by frustrations from runners who were hit with $15 parking fees, a $10 fee to get a ride from the finish line in North Shore Park to the starting line at Tropicana Field more than two miles away, plus another $15 for parking to simply pick up the race packet at Tropicana Field as was required in the days leading up to the race.

There didn’t appear to be any mention of parking costs or any shuttle fees in CGI’s 2017 race proposal, but the company requested a course that starts at Albert Whitted Park, only 1.3 miles from the finish line at North Shore Park. It also told the city it was open to adjusting the course.

The Competitor Group has also hosted more than a dozen successful "Rock 'n' Roll" half marathons and marathons each year since they left St. Pete, and used their national exposure and experience to set their application apart from the local companies seeking to host a race.

CGI requested a race date during the third weekend of March, which would put next year’s race on March 19, likely fewer than two weeks before the IRL’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The company told the city it “would be willing to adjust the race course to accommodate planned construction near the Pier/Bayshore Drive area, assuming we are allowed to return to the area once construction is completed” and it “would also consider evaluating alternate start and expo locations to accommodate Grand Prix activities.

A STRUGGLE OVER A SECOND ST. PETE HALF

The city also voted to award a November half-marathon to Pinellas-based EndorFUN Sports, but the process may get delayed by a formal bid protest by the runner-up, Florida Road Races.

The initial protest by Florida Road Races (FRR) cited a number of issues, including Endorfun's alleged lack of accurate projections, lack of social media following, lack of experience with half marathons, and lack of experience hosting events in Florida.

However, according to public records obtained by 10Investigates, city officials indicated a preference to give the opportunity to host a November half-marathon to EndorFUN based on its vision, presentation, and experience with Ironman-distance triathlon events in New England.

The city's purchasing director also wrote an official denial of the protest on Monday, citing EndorFUN's "creative, fresh and energetic" presentation as well as their proposed coordination with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Evaluators said they preferred EndorFUN's experience in other parts of the country to Florida Road Race's experience, predominately in Pinellas.

Chris Lauber, head of FRR, says he plans to appeal the protest rejection to the mayor and/or city council.

"The committee has not done their due diligence," Lauber said in an email to 10Investigates Tuesday, questioning if EndorFUN even met the minimum criteria laid out in the RFP.

EndorFUN Sports did not return a request for comment, but 10News will continue to report on any new developments involving the bid protest.

Find 10 Investigates reporter Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.