By ALex Kuffner Journal Staff Writer
Five months after Newport learned it had lost the race to host the next America’s Cup, the City by the Sea may have gained a second chance.
With ratification of an agreement between San Francisco and the Golden Gate Yacht Club threatened, a member of the GGYC’s board of directors was set to travel to Rhode Island to meet this week with Keith Stokes, executive director of the state Economic Development Corporation, to talk about whether Newport could step in to host the prestigious yachting race.
Stokes told The Providence Journal on Sunday that he would talk with the board member, Tom Ehman, who is also head of external affairs for America’s Cup champion BMW Oracle Racing, on Monday to set up a meeting.
“BMW Oracle reached out to us to reopen discussions,” Stokes said.
Rhode Island submitted a proposal on Dec. 8 to host qualifying races for the Cup, but the talks this week will focus on the final Cup series.
“They asked, ‘Could Rhode Island provide the proper amenities for not only the championship races, but also the final events?’ ” Stokes said. “Which we absolutely can do.”
Stokes said that by Dec. 20 the America’s Cup Rhode Island 2013 Planning Committee would select an engineering firm to design improvements at Fort Adams State Park so it could host the qualifying races. Those improvements could be done quickly, he said.
“Most of our facilities are in place,” he said. “Our improvements are nowhere near the scale and cost of San Francisco’s. And being such a small, compact state, we not only have a history here, but we can also ensure a streamlined build-out process.”
America’s Cup official Stephen Barclay said he considered San Francisco to have come up with the winning bid in early November, when city officials and the yacht club negotiated an agreement that was then sent to the Board of Supervisors to begin the approval process.
But he said the Port Commission recently changed key points in the agreement that would put too much of a financial risk on the America’s Cup Event Authority, which has been contracted by the GGYC to run the regatta.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee will hold a final hearing Monday, and the full board is expected to vote on the agreement Tuesday. “They’re holding on by their fingernails at the moment,” Barclay told The Associated Press on Saturday from his home in Auckland, New Zealand. “It was theirs to lose and they were told that.”
In a letter sent to Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials on Saturday, the GGYC said San Francisco would lose the right to host the next Cup races if a deal is not signed by this coming Friday. Barclay said the GGYC — which sponsors BMW Oracle Racing — set the deadline because the America’s Cup Event Authority is committed to informing participating teams of the venue choice by Dec. 31.
BMW Oracle Racing swept Alinghi of Switzerland in two races off Valencia, Spain, in February to return the oldest trophy in international sports to the United States for the first time since 1995.
San Francisco officials have estimated that hosting the America’s Cup would be worth $1.4 billion in economic benefits and create 8,000 jobs.
Barclay said the GGYC has reopened talks with Italy to hold the America’s Cup in 2013. He also said that Ehman was set to reopen negotiations with officials in Newport. Ehman also is a member of the New York Yacht Club, which defended the America’s Cup in Newport from 1930 until 1983, when Dennis Conner was beaten by Australia.
Barclay is chief operating officer of BMW Oracle Racing and a member of the GGYC’s America’s Cup Committee. BMW Oracle Racing is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, whose Oracle Corp. is based in Redwood City, south of San Francisco. Ellison also owns a mansion in Newport.
Italy is in the mix because Club Nautico di Roma is the Challenger of Record, which represents the interests of all challengers.
There might even be a third option. BMW Oracle Racing officials are said to have remained in the United Arab Emirates following the recent Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta, perhaps to initiate talks about the America’s Cup being sailed in the Middle East. Mayor Newsom’s spokesman, Tony Winnicker, confirmed receipt of the letter from Barclay.
With reports from Associated Press