Little Rhody’s Big Fumble
Little Rhody’s Big Fumble
When Rhode Island re-joined the host city competition for the 34th America’s Cup, this sailor stepped up to help. Unfortunately, the state couldn’t close the deal. "Gaining Bearing" from our March 2011 issue.
There is a lot of speculation that Rhode Island was brought into the conversation primarily to pressure San Francisco into offering a more lucrative deal. I believe Oracle Racing was 100-percent sincere in its intentions to host the Cup in Newport. Otherwise, why would its representatives have made a final call with 36 hours to go. It was like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”: “Rhode Island, is this your final answer?”
So why didn’t this happen for Rhode Island? Complicated politics and poor timing.
Oracle Racing negotiated with members of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation for the rights to use Newport’s Fort Adams State Park— most famous for hosting the city’s annual folk and jazz festivals—and new infrastructure needed to host an event of this magnitude.
The deal was headed in the right direction, but we sailed into a perfect political storm between two administrations. Neither wanted to bind the state to a significant commitment. The outgoing Governor publicly deffered to the incoming administration. The then-Governor-elect felt he didn’t have the authority because he wouldn’t be sworn into office until Jan. 4, four days afer the deadline for making a decision. And the new administration wanted to conduct its own analysis of the cost of improving Fort Adams State Park.
I also believe the incoming administration overvalued the Cup’s historic connection to Newport and the state’s willingness to fully embrace the event.
This is the same sort of thinking that cost the state the Volvo stopover; the assumption that Rhode Island was the chosen one for sailing events. In this day and age, these are business decisions.
The ultimate loser, of course, is the populace of Rhode Island, which desperately needed the purported 8,000 new jobs, and the $1.1 billion estimated cash influx. Not to mention the Ocean State could’ve used the moral boost that would have come from knowing it could compete with the big guys, and win.
Is there a silver lining for all of this? I think so. The Volvo stopover bid started the ball rolling, and the America’s Cup venue selection process has given it a huge push. Rhode Island politicians are beginning to understand that sailing is a lot more than stuffy blue blazers and chilled champagne. A major sailing event can provide a huge boost to local and regional economies.
Fort Adams may still be renovated because of this realization. In the no-tso-distant future, big marine events will hopefully be able to find a home in Rhode Island without having to cut through so much red tape. And sailing will be the winner as more people in the world are exposed to our major events in San Francisco and Newport and other cities around the country.
But that doesn’t make this missed opportunity any easier to swallow. Sure, I am a homer. Sorry San Francisco, but that’s just the way it is. I just need a story with a happy ending in the Providence Journal one of these days.