NORTH SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- Newport is a top contender to host the next America's Cup in 2013, but organizers say they want assurances that the city can speed up and complete renovations on the fort that would serve as a village-type environment for the competitors.
Tom Ehman, a board member of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, attended a meeting Monday of the state's Economic Development Corporation, where he said organizers were serious about working with Newport on their proposal. But he stressed that no final decision had been made and, while meeting later with reporters, declined to identify Newport as the front-runner.
Still, he struck an optimistic tone about the Ocean State's prospects of winning back the world's most prestigious sailing competition, which it hosted from 1930 to 1983. He said he appreciated the statewide enthusiasm for sailing and that hosting the event could bring an enormous economic impact to tiny Rhode Island, which has 11.6 percent unemployment.
"We're serious in our intent to move forward with Rhode Island," Ehman said as he presented a letter with the same message from Stephen Barclay, a fellow Golden Gate Yacht Club board member and chief operating officer of BMW Oracle Racing, the defending champions. "We think we can do good things for Rhode Island and good things for the cup."
Rhode Island officials have centered their proposal around Fort Adams State Park, a sprawling property that offers panoramic views of Newport Harbor. It hosts the annual Newport folk and jazz festivals and would be used as a sort of village for the competition and fans. Ehman said organizers would need assurances that the planned infrastructure improvements at the park could be ready in time for the 2013 event and even for preliminary regattas before that.
Newport, about 30 miles south of Providence, has been vying with San Francisco and other locations to host the 34th America's Cup, one of the world's largest sporting events. A venue decision is expected by Dec. 31.
Software mogul Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle Racing team won back the trophy for the United States last February when it swept Alinghi of Switzerland off Valencia, Spain. The winning team historically gets to pick the venue.
San Francisco was announced in July as the only U.S. city under consideration to host the cup. But Newport, which is nicknamed The City by the Sea, got another shot this month when San Francisco's bid appeared to falter because of a contract deemed too financially risky for the America's Cup Event Authority, which has been contracted by the GGYC to run the regatta.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed a revised host agreement last week, but the GGYC hasn't accepted it.
Keith Stokes, executive director of the state's Economic Development Corporation, has said that hosting the racing in Colonial-era Newport could require as little as $10 million in improvements, a fraction of what changes would cost in San Francisco.
State officials say the event could create thousands of jobs in construction, transportation, marine trades and other fields. A firm has been hired to do an economic impact analysis; an earlier study prepared for San Francisco found that the event would produce 8,800 jobs and a $1.4 billion economic impact.
Ehman said San Francisco's proposal, as written, appeared to cost too much and that negotiations had not gone as well as planned. But he did not rule out its chances.
When it became clear that Newport might again have another shot as advancing its proposal, Stokes said, "It took us about six seconds to respond in saying that we were definitely interested."