The Ironman race is coming to Juneau, and the city asked residents to house athletes

The Flats neighborhood in downtown Juneau. (Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

Juneau has a rental crisis. Then the city invited 5,000 people to come for an Ironman race. 

With only around 1,000 hotel rooms, the city proposed a creative solution: incentivizing Juneau residents to go on vacation and rent their homes to athletes for a week. 

One athlete, Michael Bissell, says that he was late to the game when looking for a place to stay, but he got something arranged fairly painlessly. 

“I was looking at hotels for about two weeks,” Bissell said. “And after no luck there — like, seriously, none — I started on a Facebook page.”

The Facebook page for Ironman Alaska has an accommodation thread with over 700 comments.

“And then within 30 seconds, 30 minutes, I had two people who have messaged me already,” said Bissell. “It just took a couple of days to see what was best for me and my crew that was coming out.”

His crew is his mom, his brother and a friend. They’re paying $1,000 a night for four nights, and he’s still hoping his crew will help him with that. 

The comments on the Facebook thread started back in October, with people mostly looking for housing in Juneau during the race. 

In January, there were a lot of discouraged commenters saying that they were really struggling to find a place to stay. Shortly after, more and more renters began commenting on those comments, offering places to stay. 

Since then, there have been more comments posting places to stay than those seeking.  However, there are still some complaining about prices.

One comment reads: “Very frustrated that the only places I’ve found so far are 5 to 6 times more expensive than they are the week before or after… Figures people would cash in, but I can’t afford to pay $5,000 a week for an Airbnb studio…”

One of the Ironman Alaska Facebook page’s admins replied: “There’s making the most of a situation and then basically ripping people off. Sounds like that falls into the latter.”

Kara Tetley, with Travel Juneau, said that Ironman considered a lot of variables before settling on Juneau as its first Alaska race location, including hotel capacity.

“They came and they visited a couple of times,” Tetley said. “Different members of the Ironman staff would come in and kind of look at things.”

Travel Juneau has a page on their Ironman site telling Juneau residents how to register their businesses and how to qualify for a discount with Alaska Airlines for that week if they do.

Tetley said that the demand for housing during the event seems to have been quelled.

“From what we can understand, there was some concern in the beginning, just because they kind of wanted to get everything settled right away,” said Tetley. “But it’s really quieted down, and it seems like a lot of athletes are set up or not as concerned about that anymore.”

City and Borough of Juneau finance director Jeff Rogers says the city doesn’t track the number of rental units. They only have the number of businesses registered in the short-term rentals category, which is 170. 

“I’m not even sure I’d have a good way to know how many of those are people who may just be registering for, you know, the sole purpose of a week for Ironman,” said Rogers. “Even if we had seen, and I mean, I would guess we’ve seen a lot of new registrations this spring. But they may or may not have anything to do with Iron Man.”

Neither Tetley nor Rogers have any way to tell if some of the people who are registering businesses as short-term rentals will continue to rent out their places after the Ironman. 

It’s also still uncertain that everyone coming into town will have a place to stay, though the accommodation thread bodes well for those still looking. 

In the meantime, Bissell will be training and preparing for some of the race obstacles that are more unique to Alaska.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll be running with some bear spray,” Bissell said.

KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

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