Sailing in San Francisco in a new class of fast, wing-sailed 72-foot catamarans on TV-friendly courses could reinvigorate the competition for the oldest trophy in international sports. The image of the America's Cup was badly damaged during a bitter, 2 1/2-year court fight preceding the 33rd America's Cup in February, when software mogul Larry Ellison led San Francisco-based BMW Oracle Racing to a two-race sweep of Alinghi of Switzerland off Valencia, Spain.
"We really do think the 34th America's Cup will be the best yet," Stephen Barclay, an official with the Golden Gate Yacht Club and BMW Oracle Racing, told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Auckland, New Zealand.
"We sought a venue that fulfills our promise – to showcase the best sailors in the world competing on the fastest boats," America's Cup Event Authority Chairman Richard Worth said in a statement announcing the selection. "And hosting the America's Cup in San Francisco will realize that promise."
Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement that the selection of San Francisco "marks the beginning of an extraordinary new chapter for our City and for the sport of sailing. ... We are ready to get to work right away in 2011 to deliver on this remarkable opportunity for the City and for the America's Cup."
San Francisco had the America's Cup all but secured in November. But Barclay, the lead negotiator for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, said the Port Commission changed the complicated financial deal that had been negotiated and sent to the Board of Supervisors to begin the approval process.
After San Francisco was put on notice on Dec. 11 that its bid was unacceptable, America's Cup officials began negotiating with Newport.
Russell Coutts, a four-time America's Cup winner and CEO of BMW Oracle Racing, had telephone conversations with Newsom before Christmas that helped swing the momentum back to the California city.
"Two people that need to be thanked for this process are the mayor and Russell," Barclay said. "Both personally got involved to help the process along. I for one think we wouldn't have gotten there without their involvement."
Coutts said in a statement: "My support for San Francisco hosting the America's Cup goes beyond the opportunity to see our team competing on home waters. We are excited to sail for our sport's greatest trophy, on a stretch of water legendary among sailors worldwide."
America's Cup organizers had expressed concern about taking on too much risk in developing a portion of the San Francisco waterfront for the competition.
Under the original arrangement negotiated by Golden Gate Yacht Club and San Francisco officials, the America's Cup Event Authority pledged to spend $150 million to refurbish certain piers south of the Bay Bridge in exchange for future development rights to help recoup those costs. Barclay said the Port changed the agreement to include piers north of the Bay Bridge and changed the terms of the long-term leases.
Barclay said it will cost $55 million to refurbish the northern piers.
"There's still plenty of risk in this for the event authority, but they are to a large degree manageable risks," Barclay said. "One of the big points we made was that we're not making a selection where we put the event itself at risk. We were given the opportunity to balance our books, and to a large degree we've done that. Both parties are happy with the deal."
San Francisco officials estimated hosting the America's Cup could be worth $1.4 billion in economic benefits and create 8,000 jobs.
As part of the deal with San Francisco, a local America's Cup Organizing Committee has pledged to help raise $270 million in corporate sponsorship money to help defray the estimated $300 million cost of the regatta.
Barclay said there would be less risk staging the regatta in Newport, but officials there couldn't commit by Friday's deadline. They said earlier this week that they needed more time to figure out how much it would cost to hold the event.
Newport officials gave a "superhuman effort" in talks, GGYC spokesman Tom Ehman said.
"Should there be any problem with San Francisco fulfilling their end of the deal, we'll be looking to Newport to jump in," Ehman told the AP.
He said Newport likely will get one of the preliminary regattas during the buildup to the 2013 America's Cup.
Mike Trainor, a spokesman for Rhode Island Gov.-elect Lincoln Chafee, said the state still will put together a proposal for the 2013 America's Cup in case the San Francisco deal falls apart.
Michelle R. Smith of The Associated Press in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.