Muncie Approves $100K in ARP Monies for the Newhouse Billionaires for Ironman Event

Mayor Ridenour Pays Billionaire to Host a Race

As I was scanning through Facebook the other day, I came across a video about a local Ironman triathlon that the Mayor of Muncie, Dan Ridenour, was featured in. It was locally sourced marketing for the Mayor in his wetsuit finishing the event with the Muncie flag. Very inspiring. I heard that Ironman was here last month because the roads were closed around the Prairie Creek Reservoir and City Councilperson Ro Selvey was looking for volunteers for the race which I thought was odd during a pandemic. Still, we can wear masks with safe distancing.

Anyway, the video of the Mayor was on the City’s Facebook page, so I asked them, “How much did Ironman pay Muncie to host the race?”

Well, within a few hours, I learned that the Mayor “negotiated” with Ironman by approving $100,000 out of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds the City received. I remember cracking a joke about our Republican Governor bragging about giving all this money to cities and counties when none of our Republican representatives in Washington voted for the ARP. It was the same thing here in Muncie proper with a Republican administration receiving $31.7 million. Lots of big plans with a monetary gift you didn’t support soon arose!

Forgetting the irony of the gift, I wondered why an athletic event is worthy of ARP money. Then I was told by inside sources, “Ironman wasn’t able to put together an event in 2020 because of COVID, so they incurred losses.”

We knew about COVID in March of 2020, and the event wasn’t until October, so there wouldn’t be any expense associated with the event. I once worked for a local triathlon company, and while there was planning that far out, minimal costs (you’ll see why later) would be made by the company. Therefore, I was unclear why this qualified for Coronavirus “rescue monies.”

Ironman is owned by the billionaire Newhouse family

As I mentioned above, I was familiar with the Ironman brand because I worked for a local triathlon company that put on local races at Prairie Creek Reservoir. Ironman Group was previously owned by a Chinese company called Wanda Sports Group. The Ironman Group was acquired by Advance Corporation in 2020, which is a private company headquartered in New York. The company is owned by family members of descendants to S.I. Newhouse, Sr. was a media oligarch owning a major newspaper brand in Staten Island and later owning Conde Nast – Vogue magazine, New Yorker, and Wired.

According to Wikipedia:

The company is nominally headquartered in the Advance offices in Staten Island’s Grasmere neighborhood, though Advance has never had an official headquarters. As of November 2019, it was ranked as the 221st largest privately held company in the United States, according to Forbes.

In addition to holding publishing and communication assets, Advance serves as the holding company for the family’s 31% stake (as of 2010) in cable entertainment company Discovery, Inc. Advance also owns a 13% stake (as of 2016) in Charter Communications, which it received when Bright House Networks merged with Charter.

As of August 2021, the group owns Condé Nast (which includes the magazines Vogue magazineThe New Yorker and Wired), 1010dataTurnitin, The Ironman Group, Advance Local, ACBJStage Entertainment, Leaders Group and Pop (Made in Seattle), and is a majority shareholder in Reddit, Charter Communications and the Discovery Channel.

So, the obvious question is, why is our small community of 70,000 people going to give $100,000 to a Forbes Top 10 Richest family’s so they can put on a race event?

Since it came from the American Rescue Plan meant to help families and small businesses get through the losses of the pandemic, I didn’t understand this one. Unfortunately, it gets worse…

Muncie ARP application guidelines

While researching this article, I also found the “guidelines” for grants to small businesses on Muncie’s website with the announcement of receiving these funds. The website states:

If you are a Non-profit, Restaurant, Hotel, Small business, Tourism Business, Art Organization, or Neighborhood Association that has been adversely affected by COVID-19 you will be eligible to apply for a competitive grant process. Grants will be approved by an independent committee of citizens; and no elected official will serve in any voting capacity for fund distribution.

Minimum Qualifications:

– Ownership within 100 miles of Muncie and business within the city limits.

– Not to be used for payroll, as they would have had access to PPP.

– It should be project based; inside city limits.

– The business had to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.

– They must submit financials.

– Nonprofits organization and neighborhood associations need to meet local eligibility requirements.

– Individual committees may add additional qualifications.

To apply, use this website and you will be directed to the appropriate committee for review and approval.

What’s odd is the Newhouse family didn’t have to complete this application process because Muncie wrote a separate report for them which can be found online (sorry for the blurriness, but it’s a screenshot of a PDF page):

As you can see, whoever wrote this up claimed that Ironman had “a substantial loss of income and negative consequences to the Ironman event.”

Yet, how would they know that if Ironman didn’t have to submit financials? Also, since Ironman’s headquarters is in Tampa Bay, FL, they don’t even meet the City’s standard qualifications for a grant.

I then checked the Federal Government’s Daily Register website for the Recovery Funds:

Accordingly, to assess whether a program or service is included in this category of eligible uses, a recipient should consider whether and how the use would respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Assessing whether a program or service “responds to” the COVID-19 public health emergency requires the recipient to, first, identify a need or negative impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency and, second, identify how the program, service, or other intervention addresses the identified need or impact. While the COVID-19 public health emergency affected many aspects of American life, eligible uses under this category must be in response to the disease itself or the harmful consequences of the economic disruptions resulting from or exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

So, does calling off a triathlon event nine months in advance of a race qualify as an “economic disruption?” If the Newhouses’ didn’t have to complete an application, we don’t even know if they had business interruption insurance or incurred losses. I guess we just took their word for it. So, why were they exempted from the application process?

I’ve contacted the Indiana Inspector General and Indiana State Board of Accounts to get their assessment.

Also, according to an article in the Chamber’s propaganda sheet called Muncie Journal, the Ironman event brings in $12-14 million, according to an “Ironman official:”

Muncie is proud to have been selected as one of only eight in the world during 2021 that will hold both a Full and Half IRONMAN on the same day. These two simultaneous events will showcase a combined 4000 contestants, with an economic benefit to Muncie and East Central Indiana of $12 to $14 million dollars according to an IRONMAN official. The economics will positively impact many sections of our economy but the restaurant and hotel industries will see the majority of this benefit,” said Dan Ridenour, Mayor of Muncie.

I’ll be following up with the auditor’s office to verify that amount. I’ve already asked the Ironman Group to clarify how they derived that number because it sounds a little inflated. There was a logistics issue with a Ball State home football game, so many Ironman participants stayed outside of Delaware County and commuted over for the event. Muncie does have a limited amount of hotel rooms because it’s not a major tourist attraction.

Muncie workers weren’t paid for working the race

The entire purpose behind the American Rescue Plan was to help small businesses and workers who suffered when the government shut down the economy to keep from spreading the coronavirus. Public safety was the number one agenda. Health before profits, except for the essential workers. Remember all the posts about “lazy workers” this year because there were so many job openings.

Well, in the case of Newhouse’s Ironman 70.3, there were no lost wages because they depended on volunteers. It’s hard to believe that one of the wealthiest families in the USA would ask a town to provide volunteers to support their event, especially in a pandemic and on the weekend. Shouldn’t our Mayor be advocating for wages for these people? I mean, it takes hundreds of people to pull off an event this big, but when your labor is free. I am not even sure that is legal.

Shareen Wagley from the Mayor’s office said, “If people want to volunteer for the event, they can.”

So, from what I can tell thus far, our city officials not only offered the Newhouse billionaires $100,000 to put on a race in our community, but they convinced a bunch of residents to work for free when people are struggling, and they could get sick from COVID.

To clarify, according to Forbes magazine, the Newhouse family is listed as the 10th wealthiest families in America:

The Newhouse family fortune stems from a publishing empire that Sam Newhouse (d. 1979) started in 1922 as Advance Publications.

His two sons, Samuel “Si” (d. 2017) and Donald, inherited the business. Si ran its magazine division; Donald ran its newspaper and television segment.

Today, Advance’s holdings include Condé Nast Publications, which publishes Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and newspapers in 24 U.S. cities.

Advance Publications also has substantial stakes in Discovery Communications and social news site Reddit.

Donald’s cousin Jonathan is the chairman of Condé Nast. Donald’s son Steven shares the title of co-president at Advance Publications with his father.

In Summary

These are just my preliminary findings.

I’m waiting to hear back from the state and the Newhouse’s. Does it even matter what they say?

We had three local news agencies report on this event, and they all talked about the economic impact provided that was sold by the company or the propaganda. But, unfortunately, none of them checked out the details of where the devil is located.

How can you make good decisions if you don’t have the evidence you need? How could the Mayor negotiate with the Newhouse family if he didn’t know who he was dealing with?

Muncie has so many quality assets. We don’t need to sell ourselves short.

Asking people to work for cheap or even free so that others can profit is the core problem with the capitalist economic system. In this case, like with many others, we even offered to pay the rich to have an event here or subsidize their profits. Watching the Mayor cross the finish line with Muncie’s flag captures it all. Lots of people had to sacrifice so one man could cross the finish line for his video.

One month later…how many residents of Muncie had to struggle to write a check for property taxes to Delaware County? How many couldn’t even write a check to the county? That day of labor could have been a credit for property taxes, or the $100,000 could have paid for how many residents’ property taxes?

I’ll update this story as more rolls in.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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