Software mogul and sailing enthusiast Larry Ellison on Wednesday stood beside the 160-year old America’s Cup at San Francisco's City Hall and proclaimed that the region offers the world’s most spectacular natural amphitheater for competitive sailing.
Ellison’s Oracle Racing team clinched the Cup off the coast of Spain in February, giving it the power to set race rules and select a host venue for the next event. Last week, following months of sometimes awkward and difficult negotiations, the San Francisco-based team announced that the competition would be held at the mouth of San Francisco Bay.
“Thank you, San Francisco,” Ellison said during the Wednesday afternoon ceremony, drawing applause from a tightly packed crowd of more than 250 people. “The trophy is back in the United States after a long absence and we’re very proud to be the team to bring it back.”
Tensions emerged in recent months between city negotiators and team officials, who apparently created phantom bids from other potential hosts to maximize the value of San Francisco's bid. The team accused the city of a bait-and-switch maneuver that denied the group some waterfront development rights, and threatened to award the event to Rhode Island.
But Ellison on Wednesday told reporters that the parties have a positive relationship.
“The morale of our team and the city is very, very high,” Ellison said during a press conference following the ceremony. “It’s in both sides’ interests to do a great job here and I think we get along fine.”
Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom said media accounts of tensions between the city and the team were overblown, and he appeared reluctant to dwell on them.
“Phase one is behind us,” Newsom told reporters. “That’s the past. We’ve moved into the future.”
Newsom said the most immediate challenges facing San Francisco relate to rigorous environmental reviews of waterfront construction plans for a race village and other facilities that must be completed during the coming year in order to comply with the stringent California Environmental Quality Act.
The final matches of the America’s Cup will be held in the late summer of 2013, following pre-Cup regattas planned around the world.
City officials say a host city agreement that was signed last week by San Francisco and Ellison’s group commits the city to provide generally the same level of public benefits to race organizers as an earlier version that was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.
“It’s within the parameters that were set by the Board,” Port of San Francisco official Brad Benson told The Bay Citizen.
But the San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday reported that the deal has been sweetened in favor of Ellison’s group. That suggests the Board of Supervisors might need to approve the new agreement, which could reignite contentious debate at City Hall.