By Jim Newell
A proposed triathlon in downtown Lake Orion is on after the Lake Orion Village Council voted 5-0 on Monday to approve the permit for the Oct. 5 event.
Councilmembers Ray Hammond and David Churchill were absent from the meeting.
The Lake Orion Challenge had faced opposition from 40 downtown businesses and eight residents who signed a petition asking the council not to approve the event’s permit.
During its May 28 meeting, councilmembers chose not to support a resolution to approve the Lake Orion Challenge permit application, instead siding with their business owners who objected to more public street and parking lot closures.
The permit allows the race to use village right-of-ways and property.
Since then, Aaron Palaian, owner of Onurmark Productions, the race company behind the Lake Orion Challenge, has adapted his plans and will not close any village streets for the race.
Palaian will use The Lake Orion Review parking lot and close the municipal lot next to the Orion Art Center to minimize the footprint of parking lot closures, which, according to his plans, should reopen around noon to 1 p.m. on Oct. 5.
He also visited many downtown businesses to speak with owners about their concerns.
“Now that we’re not closing streets or parking lots, most business owners, even if they didn’t like me, were more supportive of the event,” Palaian said.
The Lake Orion Challenge is a triathlon with kayaking, canoeing or paddle boarding on Lake Orion at Green’s Park, which will be closed to the public beginning at 1 p.m. Oct. 4 for 24 hours.
Racers – limited to 250 people – would then cross M-24 near AutoZone and ride bikes through the village and Paint Creek Trail and run through village streets. A race map is available at lakeorionchallenge.com.
While many business owners may accept the Lake Orion Challenge now that streets and parking lots will not be greatly affected, some still want to see better communication and better-defined process for approving events in the future.
Allan Goetz, owner of 20 Front Street, told the council that while he now supports the Lake Orion Challenge, he would like to see a better process for approving events in the future so that they don’t impact customer parking as much.
“It really is the events where there is a parking problem,” Goetz said.
Kathy Coe, owner of Ed’s Broadway Gift & Costume, suggested that another venue, such as Bald Mountain, might be better for the triathlon.
“Is this the event good for our community? Maybe it is, maybe it’s not,” Coe said, adding she was concerned about the village’s liability if something happened, especially with racers crossing M-24. “I’m asking you to reconsider on an outside vendor. This is our lake. This is our trail. This is our downtown.”
Most business owners – including those who signed the petition – said they did not specifically oppose event that bring people to the downtown business district, just that street and parking lot closures greatly affect their bottom line.