The biggest fish

The America's Cup would transform San Francisco's waterfront -- but is it a good deal for the city?

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The next world-famous sailing match could be held in San Francisco in 2013
PHOTO BY JEAN-BAPTISTE DANIEL

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Shortly after Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of Oracle Corp. and owner of the BMW Oracle Racing Team, won the 33rd America's Cup off the coast of Valencia, Spain, in February 2010, a reception was held in his honor in the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall.

The event drew members of Ellison's sailing crew, business and political heavyweights such as former Secretary of State George Schultz, and other VIPs. Attendees posed for photographs with the tall, glittering silver trophy at the base of the grand staircase.

As part of the celebration, Ellison helped Mayor Gavin Newsom into an official BMW Oracle Racing Team jacket, and Newsom granted Ellison a key to the city, a symbolic honor usually reserved for heads of state and the San Francisco Giants after they won the World Series. Shortly after, the mayor and the guest of honor, whom Forbes magazine ranked as the sixth-richest person in the world, sat down for a face-to-face.

That meeting marked the beginning of the city's bid to host the 34th America's Cup in San Francisco in 2013. Since securing the Cup, Ellison has made no secret of his desire to stage the 159-year-old sailing match against the iconic backdrop of the San Francisco Bay, a natural amphitheater that could be ringed with spectators gathered ashore while media images of the stunningly expensive yachts are broadcast internationally.

Newsom and other elected officials have feverishly championed the idea, touting it as an opportunity for a boost to the region's anemic economy. The city's Budget & Legislative Analyst projects roughly $1.2 billion in economic activity associated with the event — the real prize, as far as business interests are concerned. It would also create the equivalent of 8,840 jobs, mostly in the form of overtime for city workers and short-term gigs for the private sector.

While the idea has won preliminary support from most members of the Board of Supervisors, serious questions are beginning to arise as the finer details of the agreement emerge and the date for a final decision draws near.

Ellison and the race organizers would be granted control of 35 acres of prime waterfront property in exchange for selecting San Francisco as the venue for the Cup and investing $150 million into Port of San Francisco infrastructure. But the event would result in a negative net impact to city coffers.

Hosting the event and meeting Ellison's demands for property would cost the city about $128 million, according the Budget & Legislative Analyst, just as city leaders grapple with closing a projected $712 million deficit in the budget cycle spanning 2011 and 2012.

Part of the impact is an estimated $86 million in lost revenue associated with rent-free leases the city would enter into with Ellison's LLC, the America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA). In exchange for selecting San Francisco as a venue and investing in port infrastructure, ACEA would win long-term control of Piers 30-32, Pier 50, and Seawall Lot 330 — waterfront real estate owned by the Port of San Francisco, with development rights included. Seawall Lot 330, a 2.5-acre triangular parcel bordered by the Embarcadero at the base of Bryant Street, would either be leased long-term or transferred outright to ACEA.

The most vociferous opponent of the America's Cup plan is Sup. Chris Daly, who has voiced scathing criticism of the notion that the city would subsidize a billionaire's yacht race at a time of fiscal instability. "The question is whether or not the package that San Francisco's putting together is good or bad for the city," Daly told the Guardian, "and whether or not it's the best deal the city can get."

 

Comments

Great piece,

The two numbers that jump out are the 35 acres of Bay front that Ellison would actually control. Newsom's people had everyone thinking it was 3 acres.

The other one is that you have a very astute post on another of your threads about this issue (or is it on the Bay Citizen?) who has a serious big time real estate background and says that any competent Realtor could get 50 times the value at which the Mayor is valuing the property they're proposing to give away (in a poker game where there aren't even any other players!) ... Means, Ellison is getting over 5 billion in property and we're losing, what, 80 pier businesses and how many jobs?

Time for Mirkarimi to show for the first time in his career that he can admit to a mistake. This is an incredible debacle and Ross is the lynch pin. If he doesn't flip on the issue, SF loses billions in value and all he get's is a chance to have a martini with Larry Ellison. Choose one, Ross. The people. Or, the photo op.

Go Niners!

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on Nov. 30, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

A couple comments.

Firstly, is the city honestly going to consider losing the hosting of the America's Cup and its massive attendant benefits over a mere $10 million, out of a budget close to $6 Billion?? You ~have~ to be kdding me!

On the long term leases, the partner who already has half of SWL: 330, and built a condo there, renegged on a deal to resuscitate Pier 32. The numbers did not add up for him. Fortunately by some miracle this opportunity has arrived to salvage the idea, one that rescue the piers and also absolve the Port of a truly massive deficit problem with that, and maybe a couple other dilapidated, piers. How do you propose to raise city money to save those piers from crumbling into the ocean?

On the competition. Who knows who Alinghi put Daly in touch with, but Alinghi and their owner, spiteful and hurt billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, just took a very serious beating at the hands of Ellison. Who do you think they tried to find for Daly? Someone who might support the Ellison cause? Of course not. Who they found is a nobody. Nobody has ever heard of this guy, I have looked into it too. To top that, the very next day after Daly posted the so-called non-proposal story from out of Valencia, the mayor of Valencia, Rita Barbera, said on live camera that her city had indeed offered 250 million Euros in (already) purpose-built facilities, but that the Americans had deemed the Italian offer to be stronger. Why would the ACEA have turned down the Valencia offer she spoke of, if the Italian offer was not in fact stronger? The fact that insiders in Rome are holding their cards close to the vest should be no surprise. They WANT this prize, believe me.

This is a very big deal. It is not going to solve other city budget allocation issues, decide who gets what from the $6 Billion. But it will, if wiser heads than Daly's prevail, generate an enormous boost to the city overall, as well as massive improvements to the waterfront that have no other good prospects for them at all.

Lastly: This is a about a fantastic, clean, beautiful, proud image for San Francisco. The America's Cup puts places positively on the world map like almost nothing else does. Yes, SF could use that about now! Quite frankly, articles like this do the opposite.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2010 @ 8:48 pm

You have one number wrong.

Ellison spent a decade pursuing the Cup at a total cost of $1 billion, not $100 million !!!

Posted by Stingray on Nov. 30, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

On one hand you mention hard economic times as an impact to raising sponsorship and a reason for not supporting a billionaires yacht race and yet on the other you fail to see that hard economic times are exactly the reason why the piers in question will continue to rot. So the lost rent figures are slightly skewed given that context.

Surely it's better to continue to improve the water front and host a world class event that will generate revenue you would never have seen anyway than hold out for another property developer that will be looking for a killer deal as well but will bring no new tourism to the city.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 30, 2010 @ 11:24 pm

Once upon a time, hosting the America's Cup was a prestigious thing. In fact, one of the reasons for competing for the America's Cup was to win the right to host the event the next time around.

It's a shame that the Golden Gate Yacht Club and Larry Ellison put the event out to tender. Instead, winning the Cup should have been the same as winning the right to host the Olympics. The citizens of San Francisco should have started planning to host the event the day after BMW ORACLE beat Alinghi.

Major events always cause these fights. People in Albert Park in Melbourne don't like the F1 Grand Prix there and it probably loses the city some cash, but it puts the city on the international stage for a couple of days a year and generates some tourism dollars. The UK people are ambivalent about the cost of the Olympics, but hopefully there will be some legacy infrastructure that comes out of it.

Some people are going to make money, some people are going to lose money. The Golden Gate Yacht Club should just announce with pride that they are glad to have won the right to hold the America's Cup in San Francisco, then everyone should get on with making it an incredible event.

Posted by Dave Fuller on Dec. 01, 2010 @ 2:23 am

These billionaires will not be satisfied until we begin to present them with a stream publicly funded of gold bricks.

-marc

Posted by marcos on Dec. 01, 2010 @ 9:58 am