America's Cup talks heat up in Newport

Updated: December 14, 2010, 2:43 AM ET
Associated Press

America's Cup officials were negotiating with Newport, R.I., on Monday even as San Francisco attempted to hold on to its chance to host sailing's biggest regatta.

Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee endorsed a host city agreement and sent it to the full board, which is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday. He said the agreement included five changes sought by the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

Stephen Barclay, an official with both the GGYC and America's Cup champion BMW Oracle Racing, said in a letter to Newsom on Saturday that San Francisco will lose the right to host the America's Cup in 2013 unless an acceptable deal is in place by Friday.

Winnicker said Barclay flew from his home in Auckland, New Zealand, and was at City Hall on Monday night to continue negotiating details of a complicated agreement that would allow the use of several piers north of the Bay Bridge to stage the competition for the oldest trophy in international sports. Winnicker said the talks were expected to continue Tuesday morning.

Barclay told The Associated Press on Saturday that 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.

Winnicker said that even if certain changes sought by the GGYC aren't included in the final agreement, there might be ways to address them outside of a host city agreement.

"Ultimately, the host city agreement we put out tomorrow will be the best we'll be able to offer," Winnicker said. "We think it's a strong bid and an unmatched opportunity. We realize we're in a very serious competition. We hope they give it serious consideration."

Barclay said the GGYC -- which sponsors BMW Oracle Racing -- set the Friday deadline because the America's Cup Event Authority is committed to informing participating teams of the venue choice by Dec. 31.

San Francisco officials are "holding on by their fingernails at the moment," Barclay told the AP on Saturday. "It was theirs to lose, and they were told that."

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.

Meanwhile, Tom Ehman, a member of the GGYC's board of directors, was in Newport negotiating with officials there.

"We had a very good day," Ehman told the AP. "Newport could be an inexpensive and very, very good alternative if San Francisco doesn't pan out."

The New York Yacht Club held the America's Cup in Newport from 1930 until 1983, when Dennis Conner was beaten by Australia.

BMW Oracle Racing, which wrested the America's Cup from Alinghi of Switzerland in February, 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.

Barclay said Saturday that the GGYC has reopened talks with Italy to host the regatta. 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.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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