The popular Oakland Running Festival is moving from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to Lake Merritt after recent problems with Occupy Oakland at the downtown plaza.
Corrigan Sports Enterprises announced Thursday that the marathon, half-marathon, four-person relay and 5k on March 25 will start at Snow Park, off Lakeside Drive at Lake Merritt. For the past two years, the races, which last year drew about 7,300 runners and pumped $3 million into the city, have started and finished at the plaza in front of City Hall.
"Our runners have given us a 97 percent approval rating in each of our first two years. In order for us to maintain this high standard, we decided to make these changes now because it was in everyone's best interest," said company founder and President Lee Corrigan.
The Occupy Oakland movement was thrust into the national spotlight after a series of police raids resulted in riots and violence. Occupiers first set up camp in the plaza Oct. 10, were cleared by police Oct. 25, then resettled Oct. 26. Police cleared the second camp Nov. 14, during a public outcry that it had become a public nuisance and was harming downtown businesses. The last straw was Nov. 10, when a man who had been in the camp was fatally shot in the head by another man at 14th Street and Broadway.
Corrigan said he also became concerned about holding the race at the plaza in December, when he visited Oakland from company headquarters in Baltimore and saw the lawns purposely flooded with water and the grass in poor shape.
Occupiers also set up a small encampment at Snow Park, but it was never as large or as volatile as the one at the plaza. The camp was cleared by police Nov. 20, though there have been some stragglers there since then.
"Runners' safety is a high, high, high priority of our event, and also showcasing the city in a positive light," Corrigan said, adding that he is not concerned there will be problems at Snow Park.
Aside from concerns over Occupy Oakland, the race needed a larger space for the start and finish lines, he said.
"(Occupy Oakland) hastened our decision to (move) it. It was certainly on the drawing board, but when all that stuff happened, we thought now was the time to do it," he said. "And we'd outgrown that space. "
Organizers expect to be able to accommodate up to 9,200 runners at Snow Park.
"Lake Merritt and Snow Park will serve as a spectacular backdrop and will leave a lasting memory for runners and fans," Corrigan said. "We anticipate huge crowds to gather around Lake Merritt, Oakland's crown jewel, and fans will help propel runners to our finish line."
Corrigan said registration is up 43 percent from this time last year. Go to www.oaklandmarathon.com for details or to register.