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Bill Munger peers out the window of his Jamestown office above the ferry dock. Munger is the owner of Conanicut Marine Services, the company that operates the Jamestown-Newport Ferry.
His panoramic view today is of a fairly quiet Narragansett Bay between Jamestown village and Newport, a stretch of water he hopes will be bustling with activity in June, when the America’s Cup World Series makes its first-ever stop in Newport and it’s only stop on the East Coast of the United States.
An economic-impact study released last fall estimates that the direct initial spending of the event will be more than $50 million statewide, with a total estimated financial impact of more than $72 million. Paul C. Harden, executive director of America’s Cup Rhode Island 2012, says businesses and communities around the state are gearing up to capitalize on the opportunity.
“In addition to Newport, I believe that communities like Narragansett and South Kingstown plan on holding events associated with the America’s Cup World Series, and several communities are also looking to host teams,” he said.
In addition to those opportunities, local businesses will be involved in a wide range of support services for the event, everything from fueling and repairing boats, to transporting spectators to and from the best viewing spots.
“Because it’s a new event we’re not sure exactly what we will have for traffic but we’ll be prepared for it,” said Munger. “I’m expecting traffic similar to the busier days we experience during Newport’s music festivals.”
The ferry service between Jamestown, downtown Newport and Fort Adam’s State Park, where the bulk of the race-associated events will take place, is normally serviced by one boat making the round trip. Conanicut Marine adds an additional boat during major Newport events, such as the Newport Jazz Festival, but plans to have a third boat available for the America’s Cup World Series, just in case.
Munger recalled the excitement that America’s Cup races brought to both communities in the 1970s and 1980s, “the races were a few miles off shore, so there wasn’t much to see in town during the day, but in the evening people would line the shore to watch the boats come back into the harbor.
“There would be a real pop of excitement, and here in Jamestown we would have a great time with the Swedes, whose team always stayed here,” he added.
“There is certainly a nostalgia factor,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of the Newport & Bristol County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. “But these America’s Cup World Series races are very different from the actual America’s Cup races held here 30 to 40 years ago.”
Smith, having seen the modern races on a recent trip to Plymouth, England, equated them to “the NASCAR-equivalent of yacht racing.” The 45-foot, state-of-the-art catamarans are designed to travel at high speeds, in close quarters, very close to shore; creating intense racing, collisions, capsizing and a spectator experience very different from the Cup’s heyday in Newport. “I think,” said Smith, “that it is even more about the evolution of Newport and the America’s Cup than the history between the two.”
Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport and chairman of the Governor’s Committee to host the America’s Cup World Series, believes the event is an opportunity to build the popularity of the sport. “People recognize Newport for the original America’s Cup and for the Gilded Age, but this new style of race can really present sailing as a more populist activity, bringing Rhode Islanders, New Englanders, and other visitors to Newport, maybe for the first time, to experience sailing as a spectator.”
At Fluke Wine, Bar & Kitchen on Bowen’s Wharf in Newport, owners Jeff and Geremie Callaghan are optimistic that the nostalgia and evolution of the event will help make the America’s Cup World Series the centerpiece of a very profitable summer. “The whole community is excited,” said Geremie.
“I expect this to be our best and busiest summer yet,” said Jeff Callaghan. “It’s exciting because the summer starts early and doesn’t stop. There are events practically every week.”
Beyond the direct impacts experienced by local businesses, economic-development professionals in Rhode Island are optimistic about the prospects that can grow out of the groundwork laid by this event.
“The international exposure of Newport will showcase that we are worthy of our reputation as the sailing capital of America,” said Jody Sullivan, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. “The infrastructure improvements that have been made to Fort Adams State Park will remain and allow us to pro-actively solicit and host additional marine/maritime-dependent events that were previously out of our capacity.”
Sullivan’s counterpart at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Laurie White, said the event “is a great opportunity to extend the stay of visitors … so they can explore other parts of the state.” White also believes that as hotels in Newport and South County begin to fill up, “the radius of hotel bookings will grow closer to Providence.”
“Everyone is excited,” added White. “This is an event people can identify with because of the time-honored name associated with it, and it’s an event that will bring an infusion of new dollars to the state.”
While the excitement builds for Rhode Island’s rekindled involvement with the America’s Cup through the World Series races, the nostalgia of Newport’s glory days hosting the actual America’s Cup are not entirely forgotten.
“I’d love to see restaurants, businesses, locals, embrace the idea that we still have a shot for an America’s Cup one of these days again,” said Jeff Callaghan of Fluke. “It is really important for everyone to put their best foot forward,” he said. •