New half-marathon would close Sunshine Skyway on New Year’s Day

The Sunshine Skyway could be the venue for a new running race proposed for New Year’s Day.
The Sunshine Skyway could be the venue for a new running race proposed for New Year’s Day. Bradenton Herald file

The Palmetto City Commission on Monday approved their part for a new Skyway half-marathon that would take runners across the landmark bridge and into the city. There is one final approval needed and if that happens, the bridge would be closed for three hours on New Year’s Day.

Organizers say New Year’s Day is historically the lowest day for traffic crossing the bridge between 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and estimate the event would affect about 1,000 vehicles. They will reimburse the state for the loss in tolls.

Event organizer Shane Henry, of EventCO LLC, said an aggressive marketing campaign will hopefully eliminate all inconvenience to motorists in the future, as hopes are running high this will become an annual event.

“I believe in this event and believe it can be a premier event,” Henry said while noting he has been trying to make this a reality for four years. “There’s an opportunity here. Nationwide, New Year’s Day is a huge running day.

The planned route for the half-marathon would begin at the southbound Skyway rest area on the north end of the bridge, with runners coming south into Palmetto and ending at Blackstone Park. Palmetto’s role is small, but the city had to approve a special function permit for the race to turn off of U.S. 41 and onto 23rd Avenue West toward the park.

“The event, one of Florida’s most unique running courses, has the potential to quickly grow to be known as the premier road race in the state, garnering crowds from all over the world like those seen at races in Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami,” which feature over 20,000 participants, organizers said.

Henry predicts up to 5,500 runners for the inaugural Skyway half-marathon, but approval must still come from Manatee County, which Henry hopes will step up as the event’s primary facilitator. Parts of U.S. 41 south into Palmetto would also be closed between 6-9 a.m.. All roads, including the bridge, are expected to reopen by 9 a.m.

Henry said the 13.1-mile course would provide participants with a unique view from the bridge overlooking Tampa Bay as they ascend nearly 200 feet to the top of the bridge right around sunrise on New Year’s Day.

The event proposes to raise $125,000 for charities, including Southeastern Guide Dogs, Easter Seals, Boys and Girls Club, Wounded Warrior Project, Keep Manatee Beautiful and more. Henry said other municipalities required to sign no objection letters by the Florida Department of Transportation have already said they would do so, and all that is left is Manatee County’s approval.

A Finish Festival is planned at the county’s Blackstone Park with entertainment, vendors, food, souvenirs and awards. The race will be streamed live on LED screens at Blackstone.

“Palmetto is one stop, but a very important stop,” Henry said. “We have several more to go, but we are feeling cautiously optimistic. It’s fair to say the response has been positive so far. Some think it’s a crazy idea, but say, ‘Hey, if you are going to go for it, go all the way, so why not?’ 

The FDOT has not commented officially on the possibility of closing the Skyway on New Year’s Day. Henry said FDOT doesn’t concern itself with what event is applying for road closures, rather than the closure itself. So as long as the municipalities are on board, FDOT could likely approve the closure.

Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said when Henry first approached her about his idea, “I was somewhat pessimistic.”

Henry said she was certainly not the first to express that over the last four years.

“I’ve been laughed off the phone several times,” Henry said. “I have tell them, ‘No, I’m serious.’ We have gotten closer each year and we are closer than ever this year. I am optimistic it’s going to happen this year, but if for some reason it doesn’t, I’ll be back next year.”