AMERICAS CUP – Story by C.W. Nevius, Chronicle Columnist.
The America’s Cup came to San Francisco with a trumpet fanfare and soaring expectations.
The Embarcadero waterfront would be transformed and finally developed. Up to 10 sailing teams would skim across the bay for the right to challenge for the Cup. Hundreds of thousands of people would attend an event that would create jobs, stimulate the local economy, and cost the city virtually nothing.
OK, that was fun. Now here’s the reality.
The waterfront will get a bit of a sprucing up, and the black hole known as Piers 30-32 will be shored up to extend their useful life another 15 to 20 years. There will be more like five sailing teams. And not only is the Cup not yet generating thousands of jobs, the America’s Cup Event Authority is cutting staff to save money. And frankly, we’re not sure how many spectators will show up, but the current thinking is to revise the numbers down.
Stephen Barclay, interim CEO of the event authority, says 28 employees were laid off Friday, but that only makes sense as we transition to America’s Cup Lite.
“We now know the deal,” he said. “It means we have a reduced footprint and we will pay more but earn less. It therefore gives us the opportunity to organize ourselves accordingly.”
Quite frankly, that’s just fine.
This may be a downsize from the original extravaganza, but it will still be an awesome event in the perfect spot. I continue to think that even people who don’t know a spinnaker from an anchor will find these races unexpectedly compelling. It will be a showcase for the city and the bay, and I will be extremely surprised if it isn’t a killer event.
There will be inevitable doomsayers as the expectations are downsized, but other than learning a good lesson about promising too much too soon, I don’t see this as a problem.
For starters, good for the city, the port and Cup organizers to reach a compromise for the repairs to Piers 30-32. The big, flat eyesore has been used as a parking lot, and there were high hopes of spending nearly $100 million to completely redo the pier and begin large-scale development.
When that deal fell apart amid inflated expenses, concerns about development and deadline pressure, Supervisors Mark Farrell and some newspaper columnists howled at the lost opportunity. The city, we complained, lost an opportunity to build something modern and cool on that asphalt wasteland and ruined the Cup’s plans too.
The idea was to stage the teams there, right in the middle of the waterfront, so spectators could come check out the boats. Organizers compared it to getting a pass to the pits at a NASCAR race. Without improvements to the piers, the boats were going to be pushed way down around the corner to Pier 80.
And to the credit of both sides, that’s when a compromise was reached.
“The costs (to completely redo the piers) ballooned from $10 million to around $92 million,” said Aaron Peskin, former Board of Supervisors president and influential critic of development. “We said you don’t have to do the platinum, Cadillac deal.”
Instead, a more modest revision will be done, shoring up the piers and making them usable for the team staging areas. Putting the boats there will be a huge improvement, consolidating the Cup venues in the same general area.
“It is far different and on a smaller scale than what might have been,” says Farrell. “But I am excited that we are going to do something.”
And now that expectations have been toned down, we can stop looking at this as a transformative real estate event or an economic boondoggle, and just see it for what it is – a boat race.
As for being ready, we’ve taken the liberty of already filling the bay with water. So our part is essentially done. Bring on the boats.