Economic impact of ACWS will be palpable
One of the biggest area events in 2012 will be the arrival of the America’s Cup World Series in June. The regatta, which will take place from June 23 to July 1, is a precursor to the America’s Cup finals, which will take place in San Francisco in 2013, and it will have a major impact on all the municipalities in the area, including Jamestown.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently announced the formation of a host committee for the event, and named Brad Read to head up the committee. Read, who grew up in Seekonk, Mass., and has been a lifelong resident of the Narragansett Bay community, was a twotime sailing All-American at Boston University and College Sailor of the Year in 1986. After being a sailmaker for a number of years, Read became executive director of Sail Newport in 1998.
Sail Newport has grown in size from 200 students per summer to over 1,000. The organization owns 130 sailboats and runs 8 to 12 major regattas each year, and scores of smaller events, working with local yacht clubs including Conanicut Yacht Club and Jamestown Yacht Club.
The America’s Cup World Series road to Newport began on the day that Oracle defeated Alinghi in the Deed of Gift Challenge on Feb. 14, 2010. Oracle owner Larry Ellison was quoted in his victory speech mentioning Newport as a potential venue for the 34th America’s Cup. People in this area were naturally keen on the idea.
Meetings were held and Donald Carcieri, who was then the governor, set up a task force to determine whether Newport could host the event. A plan was formulated in which Rhode Island could host the America’s Cup finals. All of those plans were put on hold when the Oracle syndicate – who were defenders of the Cup and thereby owners of the right to name the venue for the next event – announced in July 2010 that San Francisco would be the sole American venue for any America’s Cup regatta. This was done in an effort to focus federal support for the San Francisco effort.
At the same time, the announcement of a preliminary series of events, known as the America’s Cup World Series, would be held in the years leading up to the fi- nals. These regattas would travel from port to port around the world and would be used to generate interest in the America’s Cup, and to further the development of the racing catamarans that would increase in size from the 45-foot World Series craft to 72 feet for the finals. Newport remained out of the picture however.
In the fall of 2010, negotiations between the America’s Cup event organizers and the city of San Francisco began to take a harsh turn and Newport was suddenly back in the picture as a potential venue for the America’s Cup fi- nals. More meetings were held in a renewed effort to determine whether Rhode Island had the capacity to host the event.
According to Read, a good package was developed and Rhode Island came pretty close, but in the end fell victim to timing. “We couldn’t get everyone pulling in the same direction because we were between governors’ administrations,” Read said. “The General Assembly was out of session, so we couldn’t pull the trigger fast enough to really be in the game to host the Cup.”
San Francisco then renegotiated with Oracle in good faith, and the city was chosen as the ultimate venue. “It’s going to be great, an opportunity for the America’s Cup to be on an amazing stage in San Francisco, one of the windiest places on earth,” Read said.
Although there remain people who believe that Rhode Island was being used as leverage by the organizing committee in their negotiations with San Francisco, Read is confident that they were serious in their intent. “They were absolutely serious,” Read said. “I assume that ultimately we made San Francisco come to the plate a little bit more because we did present something that was very tangible for future negotiations.”
Although they were disheartened by the loss, a group of Rhode Island people remained interested in bidding to host one of the World Series events. Unfortunately, Newport was again rebuffed. “I believe that we lost that first round because the folks that were putting the package together were under an expectation that we were a shoo-in at the time, and we got a little bit of a slap back to reality,” Read said.
Then in July, Read traveled to New York City along with a group of public officials to meet the organizing committee face to face. “We came to an understanding of what Rhode Island could do, as opposed to what we couldn’t do,” Read said. “I think the America’s Cup Event Authority people really started understanding how dynamic this event could be in this small town, yet enormously marine-crazy environment.”
During the first America’s Cup World Series event in Cascais, Portugal, earlier this year, the announcement of additional World Series venues was made. This time Newport was on the list. It was time for the real work to begin.
Work is already underway, led by the state Department of Environment Management, on improvements at Fort Adams State Park, where the teams will be based. A Marine Affairs Committee – made up of the Coast Guard, the harbormaster, DEM, a pilot’s association and local sailing organizations – has been meeting on issues of waterway safety.
While the announcement of the host committee has been made, the members of the committee have not yet been named. There will be a Jamestown representative on the committee, and the committee meetings will be open to the public.
“Newport is going to be available in a way that it’s never been available before, with groups like Old Port Marine and the Jamestown Ferry Service really ramping up their ability to transport people on the water,” Read said. “There’s going to be an incredible harbor shuttle system that hopefully can get 1,100 to 1,200 people per hour from Perotti Park to Fort Adams.”
According to Read, the visitors’ experience at Fort Adams will include observing the launching of the racing catamarans, watching the races, and taking part in a Sail Newport sailing festival on the water each morning of the event. There will also be merchandise and food sales, and a consortium of Rhode Island nonprofit organizations will be on hand to showcase their efforts. An entertainment component is also expected, but has not been announced yet.
Much like the annual Newport folk and jazz festivals, the America’s Cup World Series will be a gated event, with a yet-to-be-determined ticket price to enter Fort Adams during the event. Read is basing attendance expectations on the music festivals, which could mean up to 10,000 people per day at Fort Adams.
The regatta will also feature free vantage points for the races, which in the event of the normal prevailing southwesterly breeze, will start in an area between Clingstone and Kettlebottom before proceeding along the shore in front of Fort Adams. One of the viewing areas will be Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, which will provide good views of the action from the boat basin area.
Read was clear that Jamestown will have a seat at the table during the planning. “Jamestown has a seat on the host committee and they will be asked to participate in the satellite parking and transportation subcommittee,” he said. “We need to really work with the town of Jamestown, your Town Council, and also the town administrator, police and fire, to make sure that Jamestown is happy with the way the town is presented in the overall scheme of watching these races.”
There is no doubt in Read’s mind that this will help the economy on Aquidneck and Conanicut islands. “You can read the economic impact studies any way you want, but at the end of the day more people are going to come for day trips to our two islands in that timeframe than is usual,” he said. “There will be some congestion. At the same time it’s up to each one of us to market our companies, whether it’s a restaurant, or a hardware store, or a tourist attraction, to grab some attention.”
Read said that the restaurants will surely benefit from the event.
“The restaurants will be full,” Read said. They’re already at 80 percent at that time of the year. They’ll be at 110 to 120 percent. There will be people looking for places to eat. If you can’t sell a zillion Jamestown hats during that week, then we need to change our marketing strategy. It’s one of the prettiest towns on the planet, and people are going to want to come through it.”
Any local business that is interested in becoming one of the vendors that the America’s Cup Event Authority chooses to participate should contact Jody Sullivan at the Newport Chamber of Commerce. Sullivan is creating a master list for the event authority’s use. Interested parties are also encouraged to attend public meetings, which will be announced in the local papers in accordance with the Open Meetings Law.
Read, who hopes to address the Jamestown Town Council within the next two months, has high expectations regarding the impact of the America’s Cup World Series on the area. “If their TV thing goes as well as they expect it to, we’re going to be broadcast around the world, and I’m talking Jamestown and Aquidneck Island all the way to Wickford to Providence, as one of the most amazing places in the world to visit,” he said.
In the end, all of the planning can be for naught if one element fails to materialize. “Pray for breeze,” Read said. “Pray for a big breeze because the windier it gets, the more crazy these boats are. This is not sailing like you’ve ever seen it. It is fast, it’s furious [and] it’s pretty dramatic.”