By The Associated Press
In a strong sign that the America’s Cup could return to San Francisco in 2017, Mayor Ed Lee has proposed to organizers that the main venue and team bases be centralized on the Embarcadero and that the schedule be more consistent and condensed.
Lee said in a letter to the America’s Cup Event Authority that the city is making the proposal “with great enthusiasm, guided by the lessons learned and practical experience of the 34th America’s Cup.”
The city and the America’s Cup Event Authority must still agree to a host city agreement for the 35th America’s Cup, with that agreement needing the approval of the Board of Supervisors.
Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports in September on San Francisco Bay by winning eight straight races against Emirates Team New Zealand to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.
While it was the most successful regatta in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, the buildup was full of setbacks, including the death of a sailor during training, it generated less economic impact in the Bay Area than projected and cost city taxpayers more than $5 million.
Lee’s letter, sent Monday, said any decision to host the next America’s Cup “must build from and cultivate the success of the past event while at the same time take account of better ways to capitalize on previously missed opportunities.”
He added that he’s looking for an agreement for America’s Cup 35 “that maximizes the economic, cultural and other benefits for the City and eliminates unnecessary risks and uncertainty.”
Lee proposed that Piers 27-29 on the Embarcadero not only host America’s Cup Park again, but, in a significant change from the last regatta, house the team bases as well.
Last summer, team bases were scattered around the bay. Artemis Racing of Sweden was based in Alameda, Oracle Team USA was on Pier 80 and Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa shared Piers 30-32.
Russell Coutts, a five-time America’s Cup winner who is CEO of Oracle Team USA, said Lee’s letter is encouraging.
“I think people saw last time that it kind of opened up the city’s waterfront to people in a way that hadn’t happened before,” Coutts told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his home in New Zealand.
“People can go down to the waterfront and enjoy themselves and watch the racing. With the lessons learned last time, we plan to make that even better than last time.”
Coutts said he thinks Piers 27-29 have room to host bases for the four challenger semifinalists and Oracle Team USA.
While negotiating with San Francisco officials, Oracle Team USA also is negotiating with Team Australia, the Challenger of Record. Coutts said Oracle and the Australians are discussing an elimination series staged in ports around the world, with challengers hosting the various regattas.
The challenger semifinals and finals, followed by the America’s Cup match, would all be held in August 2017 on San Francisco Bay. The challenger series and the America’s Cup match were spread over three months last summer.
Coutts said the two sides are discussing having all rounds be best-of-5. The challenger final last summer was best-of-13. The America’s Cup match was best-of-17, but ended up going 19 races because Oracle Team USA was docked two points as a penalty for a cheating scandal, forcing it to win 11 races to retain the America’s Cup.
“We think the more condensed the race program is, the better,” Coutts said. “We thought it was too long last time. A more intense race program, focused into one month, will make it easier for the city and more doable for the city. It will also be better for TV programing, and frankly, be more interesting for the spectators. The whole series was a little long last time.”
Coutts hopes to finalize a host city agreement and the protocol for the next regatta by around March 1 to allow teams to begin planning.
“As someone who is working hard to put together a new team, it’s critical for us to get the details of the next America’s Cup finalized quickly and the venue is a pillar for the whole event,” said Ben Ainslie, a key member of Oracle Team USA’s crew who is now trying to put together a British challenge.
“Everyone saw what a great arena San Francisco Bay was for the racing this summer and I hope we’ll soon see an arrangement that brings us back to San Francisco as soon as possible.”
Coutts said American Pete Melvin has been hired to lead the development of the new design rule. While the last Cup was contested in 72-foot catamarans, Coutts said organizers are looking to sail the next one in catamarans between 60-65 feet long.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute earlier this month released figures that show last summer’s racing generated at least $364 million in economic impact. That figure rises to $550 million if the construction of a new cruise ship terminal is factored in.
That is far below the $900 million projected just a few months before the races were set to begin and the $1.4 billion originally estimated in 2010.