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How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love (or at Least Accept) the America's Cup

Why San Franciscans should care about sailing's Super Bowl.

The America’s Cup is the first large event overseen by the port in its new era of self-sufficiency, and already the Mayor’s Office has learned from the experience. “The Cup forced us to look at transportation, sustainability, and public access to the area,” said Sullivan. With proposals in the works to build a massive residential and office facility at Mission Rock south of AT&T Park, a commercial and biotech complex at Pier 70, and, of course, the Golden State Warriors arena at Piers 30–32, the Cup preparations, Sullivan said, “gave us a head start for those other projects.”

As for why San Franciscans should care about the actual competition, that’s a more complicated question. When I asked Sean Randolph, the president of the influential Bay Area Council Economic Institute, which team locals should be rooting for, he stated unambiguously that we should support Oracle. “If they win,” he said, “the race will stay here, and we can continue to build out our sailing facilities and market ourselves as a host to races.” In fact, according to Sullivan, if Oracle wins, the city and the team are obligated to negotiate for the next America’s Cup. Of course, there’s a big difference between being required to negotiate and actually doing so in earnest. What passes for “prodevelopment” in maritime San Francisco may not be enough to convince an undoubtedly chagrined Larry Ellison, who has dropped a reported $100 to $200 million on this event, to return. When I asked Schiller to what extent San Francisco will be part of the future of the America’s Cup, he replied, “That depends on the public’s reaction.”

For Mayor Lee and members of the so-called city family who have thrown their weight behind Ellison, a successful America’s Cup means more than just publicity in the form of those gorgeous, sweeping camera shots of the Bridge and the Bay. It means a windfall of hotel and sales taxes that can insulate the city from state and federal cutbacks. It means demonstrating to the world that San Francisco can host a major international sporting event—a mini-mini-Olympics, if you will. And more than that, it means perhaps changing San Franciscans’ attitudes about what is possible on their waterfront.

Each in its own way, the Cup and the city are entering delicate negotiations—no longer with one another, but with history. Both entities are striving to be progressive, techforward, accessible, and egalitarian. Evidence that either has pushed too far, whether it be another boat catastrophe or an economic one, will be the stuff of a backlash that could paralyze progress for years to come. On the other hand, if both can pull it off, San Francisco will have a whole new sport—and a dazzling shoreline—to call its own.


Read More America's Cup

How To Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the America's Cup
The Year in Fail 
America's Cup Magnate or James Bond Villain?
A Field Guide to Fans
Ask a Bookie

An Abbreviated History of Cheats
Pier vs. Couch

The Fair-Weather Fan's Racing Calendar
Will Larry Ellison Actually Be Sailing?

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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