sf-americas-cup.jpgThe San Francisco Board of Supervisors budget and finance committee today considered an alternative proposal to site the 2013 America’s Cup sailing race along the city’s northern waterfront, but postponed a decision until next week.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing Team won the 33rd America’s Cup on behalf of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club in February and gets to choose the host city for the next race. The team is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year.

San Francisco is competing with Italy, and today the possibility was raised that Rhode Island, a former America’s Cup host, could step in if San Francisco is rejected.

The committee today shelved an initial proposal from the mayor’s office to hold the event farther south along the central waterfront, which was estimated to be more costly to the city.

Under an alternative agreement, proposed by the Port of San Francisco last week, the main race venues would shift from Piers 30-32 and Pier 50 north to Piers 27-29. Ellison’s group would invest $55 million into port repairs in return for long-term development rights in those areas, which could include maritime-related developments, retail and office space, or public spaces.

Additionally, a private coalition of local philanthropic and business leaders pledged to raise up to $32 million to reimburse the city for costs associated with hosting the race.

At a five-hour hearing this afternoon, committee members indicated general support for the northern waterfront proposal, but said some uncertainties remained. The committee postponed a vote on it until Monday while they await further financial analysis.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said that bringing the race to San Francisco would be “an unprecedented and unique move,” but expressed a desire that “San Francisco and the Bay Area benefit as well as we possibly can.”

Supervisor David Chiu, who is not on the committee but attended today’s meeting, said, “I am very excited about the possibility of shifting our bid” to the northern waterfront. He said the move “would be better for the event itself” in addition to costing the city less. The proposed area lies in his district.

Another non-committee member who attended today, Supervisor David Campos, said he fully supported the city hosting the America’s Cup.

“It’s just a question of whether or not we actually have a deal that makes sense for the city and county of San Francisco,” Campos said. He added that little was known about whether any other cities had proposed a “viable offer.”

Asked by the committee whether the deal was the best the city could get, Port of San Francisco Director Monique Moyer responded, “I believe that it is.”

Yet for some supervisors, questions remained about funding for the proposal, about the extensive environmental review process yet to be undertaken, and about possible litigation.

“I think that a very strong case is being made that San Francisco should secure the hosting rights for the America’s Cup,” Mirkarimi said, but added that there were “unresolved questions” and “some threads that were hanging a little bit.”

The committee will hold a special meeting to take up the issue on Monday, and then will likely forward it to the full board at its last meeting of the year on Tuesday.

The committee will also consider a proposed amendment Monday to allow the city to terminate the agreement if the $32 million in private funding is not raised.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office has estimated the America’s Cup could bring more than $1 billion in economic activity to the city and the region, and could add about 9,000 jobs.
Following the hearing, Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said he believed the deal would be approved.

“We’re confident that support for the northern waterfront (proposal) will only grow, the more that supervisors learn of the enormous benefits to the city, to the port, and to San Francisco’s economy,” Winnicker said.

Ari Burack, Bay City News

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