America's Cup economic impact below projections

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The America's Cup sailing races this year generated far less economic activity in the San Francisco Bay Area than projected and have cost taxpayers more than $5 million, according to draft figures released Tuesday.

Figures from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute show the races generated at least $364 million in economic impact. That figure rises to $550 million if the construction of a new cruise ship terminal is factored in.

That is far below the $900 million projected just a few months before the races were set to begin and the $1.4 billion originally estimated in 2010.

Based on figures from Mayor Ed Lee's office, the races have cost city taxpayers more than $5 million so far, despite private fundraising and a boost in city tax revenue, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The numbers come as Lee prepares to submit a proposal by Dec. 22 to host the next Cup. In a statement, he said the races "showcased our beautiful city to the world and brought thousands of new jobs, long-overdue legacy waterfront improvements, international visitor spending, and a boost to our regional economy."

But Supervisor John Avalos said city money was better spent in outlying neighborhoods such as the one he represents, rather than its waterfront, which was spruced up for the races.

"A $5.5 million deficit, all for a yacht race for billionaires," Avalos said. "The whole event has been nothing more than a stupefying spectacle of how this city works for the top 1 percent on everyone else's dime."

The event faced numerous setbacks, including the death of Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson during a training run in May.

The $100 million price tag to compete in the race whittled down the list of competitors. Simpson's death raised concerns about the safety of the race.

Still, the finish was thrilling, with defending champion Oracle Team USA coming back from an 8-1 match deficit to defeat Emirates Team New Zealand.

"While the economic boost fell short of initial expectations, it's definitely worth a modest city investment to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for our local economy," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. "The race ended up being pretty exciting, too."

Russell Coutts, a five-time America's Cup winner who is CEO of Oracle Team USA, told The Associated Press that while the economic impact was less than originally predicted, "it was still a positive result for the city. Certainly in my view $550 million is a fairly substantial economic impact. Obviously with more teams in the game, the economic impact would have been higher. But even $550 million is not bad."

Unless something unexpected happens, Coutts said it's likely that the America's Cup will return to San Francisco, probably in August 2017. Oracle Team USA is in talks with the city.

"I think the city officials are very positive about the event coming back next time and so are we, to be honest," Coutts said. "It would be great to have the event back here. That's what we're working toward. I think we reconnected many people with the waterfront. From that point of view and obviously a lot of other positive things about the event, the finals ended up, as we all saw, being stunning. It showcased the bay and images of the teams racing were fantastic. All those things were positive."

Only three challengers, plus Oracle Team USA, entered the 2013 America's Cup. Organizers originally envisioned having as many as 12 teams, but high costs and the poor economy limited the number of syndicates.

Coutts said talks with the city, which resume Thursday, are going well.

"It's a much more known proposition next time," he said. "Put it this way — it won't be any smaller than last time. We're likely to see more teams in the game."

There's already one new challenger, Australia, and Ben Ainslie, who had a key role as Oracle Team USA's tactician, is trying to put together a new challenge from Britain.