By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – Some time in mid-June, a dozen carbon-fiber catamarans, each with a single kevlar winged sail will be hoisted into the water off Fort Adams. Each at the leading edge of design and technology, they’ll be competing for the championship of the America’s Cup World Series, the first-of-its-kind regatta aimed at renewing the world’s love affair with the oldest trophy in sport.
As organizers describe it, the event will be nothing short of NASCAR on the water; representing the very future of sailing.
Planning for the event has been intense.
For the first time in decades, the state is making a significant investment in infrastructure improvements at Fort Adams; a state-chartered host committee has been put into action; and soon, a well orchestrated public relations campaign will be unleashed across the greater New England and Mid-Atlantic area.
Once it’s over, the state expects to realize some $70 million in economic activity, and to have drawn an estimated 70,000 people to Fort Adams over a one-week span.
To be sure, the potential benefit of the America’s Cup World Series should not be understated. After all, between June 23 and July 1, Newport will once again play host to America’s Cup racing for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Not to be overlooked, however, is yet another high-profile event slated for the week of July 6; one that in 2007 drew an estimated 200,000 people to the island and generated an estimated $20 million in economic activity.
That event is this summer’s Ocean State Tall Ships Festival.
Up until recently, planning for the festival seemed to have taken a back seat to the America’s Cup. But on Thursday, audience members at a forum put on by the Alliance for a Livable Newport, were given the best look yet at an event which in any other summer would be the highlight of the season.
“It’s going to be an amazing summer for all of the different sailing events, but particularly for ours,” said Erin Donovan, executive director of OSTSF.
Taking place the week after the ACWS, the festival couldn’t represent a greater contrast in sailing form or technology than the catamarans that will have spent the previous week plying the bay. However, if past iterations are any indicator, this year’s event could draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Newport’s waterfront and provide a serious boost to the city’s hotels, restaurants, and small businesses.
According to Donovan, she’s confident that provided the weather cooperates, the Ocean State Tall Ships could match the same level of attendance and economic activity seen in 2007.
Part of Tall Ships America’s 2012 Tall Ships Challenge, an annual series of races and maritime port festivals, this year’s Ocean State Tall Ships Festival is expected to draw at least 15 vessels to Newport Harbor, with dockage spread out from Newport Shipyard to Bowen’s Wharf, IYRS, and the Newport Yachting Center.
The festivities are scheduled to kick off on July 6, and culminating with a dramatic parade of sail on July 9.
All events surrounding the festival will be non-gated, and the city is expected to help coordinate an aggressive satellite parking program. In addition to boarding opportunities, visitors will also be able to take part in a celebration with the Navy Band Northeast to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
Among the U.S. flag vessels confirmed, included the HMS Bounty, Lynx, Sloop Providence, Picton Castle, Pride of Baltimore, the Gazela, and the Spirit of Massachusetts. Donovan said that she also hopes to have additional international ships confirmed by the end of March.
And while the prospect of a Tall Ships event descending on the city on the heels of the America’s Cup World Series may be overwhelming to some, tourism officials are urging Newporters to get out and revel in the excitement.
As Evan Smith, the President and CEO of the Newport and Bristol County Convention and Visitors Bureau put it last week, “This is a time for Newporters to celebrate, not to hibernate.”