For America's Cup, return to San Francisco no sure thing

Sat Sep 28, 2013 6:51pm EDT
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By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - After a spectacular America's Cup regatta capped by home-team Oracle's thrilling comeback victory, there should be little question about the event returning to San Francisco.

Yet the Cup has many critics in this famously liberal city, and they had plenty to say as controversies dogged the event in the long run-up to the exciting final series. It's far from certain that Oracle boss Larry Ellison - who, as the Cup holder, has the right to choose the venue - will be able to reach an agreement with the city for the next Cup, which is likely to take place four years from now.

Some local officials and political activists have objected from the beginning to city support for what critics deride as a rich man's yacht race. While most of the direct costs were born by the America's Cup Event Authority or recouped as part of complicated deals on infrastructure improvements, the city agreed to spend $20 million on policing, facilities and other services. City officials planned to raise the money from private donors but have so far come up about $4 million short.

"We would love to come back to San Francisco," Ellison said at a news conference Wednesday.

"San Francisco's a great place. This has been a spectacular regatta. But we're going to sit down and talk with the officials in San Francisco and see if it's going to be possible to come back."

For the city, the economic benefits in the form of increased tourism, temporary jobs and the payoff from the images of San Francisco that formed a perfect backdrop for TV coverage are hard to calculate and have not yet been tallied.

Still, the Cup was not the boon to local businesses that officials had predicted. With only three challenger teams rather than the 12 to 15 once anticipated, the summer-long preliminary matches were interesting mainly for the wrong reasons - including a fatal accident and a cheating scandal - and crowds were far smaller than expected. Until the dramatic finale, local merchants complained that they hadn't seen much additional business.

Even after the finals began on September 7, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos quipped that there were "more California seals than people" taking in the action along the waterfront.   Continued...

Oracle Team USA Skipper James Spithill (L) and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison walk pass spectators after the team successfully defended the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race over Emirates Team New Zealand in San Francisco, California September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam