After six years as the gateway event for the busy summer tourism season in Lenox, the Memorial Day weekend races and SummerSound@Tanglewood rock concert are moving from Tanglewood to the Butternut ski area in Great Barrington.
Organizer Matt Linick is rebranding the combined event as MassGathering and aims to simplify the logistics and return it to profitability for his company, RunningAway, which is being restructured, he said.
"Great Barrington is very excited to have us," Linick said from his Boca Raton, Fla., office. "Lenox was very supportive, but unfortunately the dynamic among Lenox, Tanglewood and Stockbridge became too much for us to manage."
Asked to elaborate, Linick commented that "changes in Stockbridge town government and the police department made it extremely hard to produce the event. We do others all over the country and this was the most difficult to run, but it shouldn't be."
"I am not aware of any 'difficulty' dealing with Stockbridge police and/or town government with respect to the Memorial Day Races," said Stockbridge Select Board Chairman Charles Gillett.
Police Chief Robert Eaton also stated that he had no knowledge of any issues between his department and Linick.
He said he and Linick "had discussed working together to develop an emergency operation plan (EOP), which would provide for a safer event for all participants, the public, town residents and motorists."
In an e-mail, Eaton pointed out that "developing an effective EOP may appear to be challenging and/or difficult. However, these plans are in place for all major events in town. We work with each organization to develop the plans specific to their event."
"We follow the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and exercise the principles of Incident Command System (ICS), which are national emergency operation standards developed to manage events like Mr. Linick's Memorial Day races and SummerSound concert," Eaton added.
The relocation to Great Barrington could be a setback for the hospitality industry in Lenox, since the 1,300 race competitors and 2,000 concertgoers who attended last May patronized shops and restaurants, and some stayed overnight at nearby inns.
"It will have an impact but maybe we can replace it with other things," said Ralph Petillo, executive director of the Lenox Chamber of Commerce. "I don't think we need an outside event to kick off the summer, but if there is one, that's great." He cited the Lenox Rhubarb Festival, slated to return next Memorial Day weekend, as an event that could grow.
Petillo predicted that the departure "won't hurt the economy that badly because the same number of people may come to Lenox," especially repeat participants. "We have reached the point in our economy that we cannot think town by town as much as we should think of the overall county so we can share events," he said.
Having lost money on last May's Memorial Day weekend for the first time since the races came to town, Linick said his company considered abandoning the event, "which would have been a shame, so we decided to redo it in a close-by but different location."
Last May, he spent $175,000 to organize the races and produce the Saturday and Sunday concerts, he said — the music budget alone was $125,000.
For next May 28-29, the same mix of races and rides will be offered, but on completely different routes, with all competition beginning and ending at Butternut. The trail race will be on the Butternut slopes, and the bike and road races will be confined to routes in Great Barrington, extending to the town lines of Alford and New Marlborough.
The music lineup is expected to offer bigger-name artists in addition to performers such as Indigo Girls, the headliner last May.
"I love Lenox and I'm sorry we have to move from there," Linick said. "I do feel bad that local businesses will be impacted, but we had to do what was best for the event at this point."
"The move has nothing to do with Lenox and Tanglewood," he emphasized. "Stockbridge was too challenging to deal with and I didn't want to go through that again. Great Barrington has been super-easy to work with, especially [Police Chief William] Walsh, and the town has a bigger police force."
Boston Symphony officials declined comment beyond stating that "we wish everyone involved with the event continued success."
Linick is hoping to see a surge in concert attendance to about 3,000, and a 10 percent pickup in race participants. "There will be more acts like Indigo Girls both days," he said.
"We didn't want to lose the event; it needed to get bigger or smaller," Linick said. "We chose to get bigger."
Pre-registration is set to open soon on a new website, Massgathering.com. For the first time, overnight camping will be offered for participants and concertgoers. A portion of the Butternut grounds will accommodate the campers, while the music stage will be sited at the bottom of the beginners' slope, creating a natural amphitheater, Linick said.