December 31, 2010: The NYTimes has reported San Francisco, Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison’s hometown, has won the bid to host the 34th America’s Cup in 2013, after the BMW Oracle group snubbed SF’s original bid two weeks ago and flew off to Newport, R.I. San Francisco’s Mayor and California Lt. Gov-elect, Gavin Newsom, got serious then and tweaked the bid to Ellison’s liking. One Sailing World writer was absolutely correct when he suggested early on that the Newport negotiations were being used as a wedge by Ellison’s group to inspire SF to try harder to fulfill BMW Oracle Racing’s wishlist.
How could Rhode Island and the Newport sailing community have been so naive to think Ellison would actually give up 66 years of development rights to prime waterfront property on San Francisco Bay to come to Newport and invest a pittance compared to the SF deal?
To help the organizers recoup some of the estimated $300 million they are expected to invest in running the competition, the city also gave them longtime rights to redevelop the bayside land after the competition.
With no vested interest in Rhode Island, except the house he owns here, it would have cost Ellison fewer millions, but in the end, his profits would have been less or none. Any investment in Newport was like ‘throwing money to the wind,’ and Ellison wasn’t about to spend anything at a government-owned AC location, Fort Adams State Park, for historical or humanitarian perks to grow R.I.’s economy. It was just better business overall to choose San Francisco, but the deal needed sweetening, and Rhode Island was ripe to play Ellison’s pawn.
As home to the world’s third largest international sports competition for over half a century, the Ocean State, suffering one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, hasn’t seen an America’s Cup since 1983. The Rhode Island Economic Development Corp’s Exec Dir, Keith Stokes, a home-grown Newporter, rallied his troops to come up with a positive economic impact plan in those two weeks, when it had taken San Francisco’s officials months of arguing to settle on the fact that the America’s Cup event would be good for its sagging economy. Stokes spoke of a tented facility to shroud the proposed sailing village at Fort Adams and perform as a cover while serving as a modern day structure to harken the celebrated event, much the same as is planned for San Francisco’s harbor.
The City envisions devoting a huge portion of the central waterfront to an America’s Cup village, including a soaring webbed structure that evokes a sail to provide cover over the “public heart” of the village.
It took Stokes a reported two seconds to say, “we can do that,” but Rhode Island’s AmCup 2013 effort was politically-based for the most part and it would take time to cut through the public disapproval from part of its northern constituency that sees sailing and the America’s Cup as elitist, the sport of the rich, which it is. The Rhode Island ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ mentality requires ‘trickle down’, or ‘trickle up north’ in this case, economics education to understand the overall positive impact that major world class sailing events would have on the entire state.
Overlooking its greatest assets of natural ocean resources and historic architecture creates a major stumbling block in growing Rhode Island’s economy for a sustainable future. R. I.’s most important natural assets can be best used for more than southerly Sunday afternoon drives around the Ocean Drive and stops at Newport watering holes. Southern R. I. and Newport fared much better when the America’s Cup was organized and run by the private sector, avoiding the perceivable blindness of upstate politics.
The RI EDC is trying to impress upon all of Rhode Island just how important an investment in its southerly assets works to the best advantage for the future of the whole state. Rhode Island’s lesson from this recent scenario of events regarding the AmCup 2013 and its unreadiness to host the spectacular: get your act together or continue the downward spiral to bankruptcy.
It’s up to Rhode Island to provide its own giddy-up! With infrastructure and waterfront improvements to Fort Adams in place, there will be no reason for world class marine events to go elsewhere. Rhode Island needs to get over its “the rich get richer” attitude and learn that all generals need foot soldiers to make a campaign a sustainable positive progression for all.
Good luck and best wishes to San Francisco in its first opportunity to host the America’s Cup from the City by the Sea, Newport.