SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Francisco is out of the race to host the next America's Cup, meaning no more spectacular backdrops of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.
Russell Coutts, CEO of two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA, made San Francisco's exit official while confirming for the first time that Chicago is a candidate, along with San Diego and Bermuda, to host the challenger semifinals and finals, and America's Cup match in 2017.
"San Francisco did a great job last time," Coutts told The Associated Press by phone from his native New Zealand on Wednesday. "Frankly, whoever is chosen next time to host it will have a hard act to follow to repeat the excitement that was there in the finals. I'm very confident that the three cities remaining are all excellent candidates.
"It's obvious that the offers in the other cities are more compelling than what San Francisco was offering," Coutts said. Software billionaire Larry Ellison, who owns Oracle Team USA, has left it up to Coutts to pick the venue and set the rules for the next cup. The rules were released last week, more than eight months after Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports to beat Emirates Team New Zealand and retain the oldest trophy in international sports.
Ellison was not available for comment, an Oracle spokeswoman said. Although the 2013 America's Cup was troubled in many ways, the final round on San Francisco Bay turned into a thriller as space-age American and Kiwi catamarans dueled on a course bordered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Embarcadero.
But America's Cup officials have been unhappy that San Francisco didn't offer the same terms as last year, including free rent for piers as well as police, fire and other services. They also opposed paying the equivalent of union wages for construction work.
San Francisco said it lost some $11.5 million in staging last summer's racing. While the America's Cup generated less economic impact than projected, Coutts said it was still substantial. "Some of the people in San Francisco didn't think it was rational to spend the money they did in order to get a $350 million economic return whereas others did," Coutts said.
In a statement, Mayor Ed Lee said "San Francisco put forward a strong proposal to host the 35th America's Cup, one that maximized economic benefit, minimized taxpayer risk and applied valuable lessons learned from hosting the 34th America's Cup along our City's world famous waterfront."
Coutts said in a letter to Lee that "should we be in the fortunate position to decide on a venue for AC36, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss returning to San Francisco." He also suggested the possibility of San Francisco hosting America's Cup World Series regattas in 2015 or 2016 as a buildup to the next America's Cup.
Coutts plans to reduce the venue candidates to two by the end of June. "If people think this was difficult, the next one will be even more difficult because all three venues have put up a really good effort to host it. I think all three cities would make excellent hosts. Obviously we want to put the America's Cup on the correct commercial foundation this time. We think that's important. Basically, that's why we're going through this process."
Officials in San Diego and Bermuda have previously announced their bids. Chicago has been a mystery candidate, with neither side publicly confirming its interest until Coutts did so on Wednesday. If San Diego is selected, racing would be on the bay rather than miles offshore on the Pacific Ocean when the city hosted the America's Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995. Coutts ended San Diego's run when he skippered Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner in May 1995. Coutts still owns a home in Coronado, across the bay from downtown San Diego.
It's eye-opening enough that Coutts is taking the Auld Mug out of San Francisco, which is home to the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which backs Oracle Team USA. If Coutts picks Bermuda, it would be the first time a U.S. defender held the America's Cup outside the United States.
Bermuda is a British territory in the Atlantic Ocean located some 640 miles off North Carolina. The only time the America's Cup has been held outside the country of the defending yacht club was in 2007 and 2010, when Alinghi of Switzerland held it in Valencia, Spain. Switzerland has no ocean coastline and it wasn't practical to hold the racing on Lake Geneva.
If Chicago is chosen, it would be the first time the America's Cup would be sailed on a lake. Coutts has heard the criticism about light wind in San Diego and Chicago. But he said the 62-foot, wing-sail catamarans will pop up on hydrofoils and skim above the waves in as little as eight knots of wind.
"I think what the people want to see is a close race," said Coutts, who won the America's Cup three times as a skipper and twice as Oracle Team USA's CEO. "These boats don't necessarily need to have 20 knots every day to have a spectacular race. One of the advantages this time is the boats are still exciting even when the wind is lighter."
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