When Rick McAuliffe, a Providence-based lobbyist and supporter of the local sailing community, was 14, his father, Rick, took him and his brother, Jamie, down to Newport Harbor to catch a glimpse of what everyone was talking about.
It was 1983, the America’s Cup was in town, and excitement over the hotly contested race between the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Perth Yacht Club of Australia had resulted in near pandemonium on Newport’s streets and crowds that grew so large that media took to motorcycle transport and the fire department warned that blocked roads could hamper emergency services. Celebrities docked boats nearby. Yachters threw lavish parties. Revelers lined the streets and filled restaurants, pubs and hotels.
From an economic and tourism view, it was heaven for the City by the Sea. What those revelers didn’t know, however, was that it was also the end of an era that the city and state would spend years desperately trying to get back.
The next step in that quest comes June 26, when The America’s Cup World Series makes its last stop – in Newport – with racing starting June 28.
“I remember the incredible amount of activity, the traffic, and that the restaurants were very full,” McAuliffe said. “I also remember us losing and how much it changed … for Newport.”
That was the year the NYCC lost for the first time since 1857, ending an unfathomable winning streak and also, in many ways, Newport’s sail-racing glory. The America’s Cup event hasn’t been there since.
Many are hoping the city is on the verge of recapturing some of what it lost when the Cup went to the other side of the world nearly 30 years ago.
The effort to bring back the Cup began in great earnest a few years ago when a series of failed bids for major racing events – including the America’s Cup 2013, which will take place in San Francisco – brought renewed light to the city’s limitations: a lack of accommodating space.
Fort Adams has since undergone $1.3 million worth of infrastructure upgrades to compete with other venues around the world.
“In the grand scheme, the words America’s Cup are synonymous with Newport,” said Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, who has chaired the America’s Cup Host Committee, a 30-member gubernatorial-appointed board of tourism, marine and economic officials. The committee is promoting a festival village at Fort Adams as the place to watch the racing, filling it with food, music, entertainment, and making it free of charge before racing begins and free for children younger than 12 on race days.