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America’s Cup Panel Fails, for Now, to Get $10 Million From Port

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego Unified Port District agreed “in concept” Tuesday to enter into a three-year “public-private partnership” with the America’s Cup Organizing Committee but stopped short of giving the sponsors of the international sailing regatta any of the $10 million in public money they say they need.

Milford Portwood, chairman of the Board of Port Commissioners, opened the meeting by pointing to the America’s Cup trophy and saying to Malin Burnham, president of the organizing committee: “Mr. Burnham, we at the port appreciate your turning the Cup over to us.”

Burnham’s immediate retort was: “There’s a price to be paid.”

Burnham and three other speakers took turns extolling the benefits that three years of preparing for and staging the event will mean to the local economy.

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Burnham said the regatta would bring the city $43 million “in tax revenue alone” and that the port would make $90 for every $1 it spends in funding the event.

An economist from the University of San Diego estimated the countywide economic impact as $911 million, which Burnham said would not be realized without the best effort possible.

“The finals of this race are in May of 1992, and I submit to you that after that time, this community will never again be the same,” Burnham said. “We can make it work for us, or we can fall flat on our face.”

Burnham said the $10 million needed from the port will go toward a media center (to accommodate 4,000 journalists), an international broadcast center, race headquarters, an America’s Cup village (for shoreside viewing) and an America’s Cup museum. He said part of the $10 million will go toward youth educational programs.

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But the item that seemed to surprise and confound some of the commissioners was Burnham’s request for another $5 million to refurbish and develop the 10th Avenue Terminal--if needed--for three to five racing syndicates that private boatyards may be unable to accommodate.

Previously, members of the organizing committee had said private shipyards and marinas could probably accommodate all teams entered in the race.

Burnham said that 20 international challengers from 15 countries and 10 American defenders had entered the competition. Eight of those teams have never before sailed in America’s Cup events.

“It’s wonderful to see all this enthusiasm,” said Commissioner Lynn Schenk. “But we have to set enthusiasm aside. We have to set boosterism aside. I read somewhere that a member of the organizing committee said Port money was ‘quasi-public money.’ I suppose he said that because it isn’t tax money, but it is public money.

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“We have to look at this thing in a hard, businesslike way and ask a lot of questions about how the money’s being spent.”

“I didn’t realize when I was cheering you on the past two years,” Commissioner Delton Reopelle said to Burnham at one point, “that you’d then turn around and dig so deeply into our pockets.”

Tom Mitchell, a spokesman for the organizing committee, said the sponsors need $10 million from the port “to do the job correctly, but when we sit down with the commissioners and the port (staff), we may find the figure going up or down. Maybe the port will want to spend more than the $10 million we’re asking for. Our budget is very, very fluid, simply because it has to be.

“This isn’t like a Super Bowl, where you have a set number of teams and players, and that’s that. At this point, we can’t just establish a firm figure for what race preparations will cost.”

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Asked why corporate or private donors couldn’t come up with the $10 million, Burnham said he preferred to use the money from “the Coca-Colas and Marlboros of the world” to fund the syndicates attempting to defend the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club.

“My No. 1 priority is a successful defense of the Cup,” Burnham said.

Burnham said the America’s Cup will be of paramount value to San Diego in making the city known to the rest of the world. He compared its impact to that of two other international sporting spectacles, the World Cup soccer competition and the Olympics.

He said the America’s Cup would have “no less an impact on San Diego” than the 1984 Olympics did on Los Angeles.

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Commissioner Portwood seemed to agree, saying, “This is the kind of publicity this community just can’t buy. The benefit will be great and far-reaching, so much so it’s difficult to quantify.

“If we tried to match this event by promoting the port on our own, I don’t think we could do it for $100 million, let alone $10 million.”

Port District Director Don Nay said recently that, although port revenues now exceed expenditures by more than $40 million a year, making the port a target for groups needy of public money, the port faces litigation from several groups that may end up in losses of several million dollars.

Nay alluded to a $200-million complaint by homeowners in Point Loma upset over airport noise and to ridding San Diego Bay of toxic pollution, which may cost $100 million.

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“I’m sure people will turn to us,” Nay said in a recent interview, “but we have many more demands than resources.”

But Burnham, who Tuesday enlisted the president of City College and an outgoing Australian to extol the benefits of regattas, said cleaning up the bay could be just “one of the many benefits” the race brings to San Diego.

“We can also spotlight the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America (in 1992) and San Diego’s significance to the Pacific Rim,” he said. “But time is precious, and whatever time we lose today can’t be made up in the future.”


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