Rec and Park Commissioner Mark Buell predicts major boon from America's Cup

Mark Buell (Joseph Schell/Special to The Examiner)

Mark Buell (Joseph Schell/Special to The Examiner)

The primary organizer of the 2013 America’s Cup in San Francisco — a boat race with the oldest active trophy in international sport — is also  well-schooled in parks. He is the chairman of the board of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy and a Recreation and Park Department commissioner.

As America’s Cup Organizing Committee chair, what are your responsibilities from now until 2013?

Under the agreement that was signed between Larry Ellison [winner of the previous America’s Cup], the mayor and me, the America’s Cup Organizing Committee has the responsibility to raise the money that The City would have otherwise expended to host the event, and to assist the Event Authority, which are the Ellison people, in introducing them to potential sponsors. There are a lot of other details in the agreement … but the primary focus is to raise $32 [million] to $40 million and to help the Event Authority in securing sponsors.

How are you planning to raise that kind of money?

Right now, as in most large capital campaigns, we are in what we call the quiet phase. We’re talking to major donors and we’re talking to the Event Authority about revenue streams that could assist. I’m fairly confident that in the next six to eight weeks, we’ll be able to demonstrate that we’re well on our way to meeting our objective.

When should locals start seeing changes?

I call it the three-legged stool: One of the legs is raising this money. Another leg is the improvements to the piers that have to happen to accommodate the event. Ellison is going to be advancing the money to improve those piers to the tune of $55 million. The boats themselves … it’s a big question. Ellison has picked catamarans, and they’re the fastest boats on the water. There’s very little professional experience racing catamarans in different environments. So what he’s done is he’s offered the eight teams that have signed up — including China for the first time and South Korea — 45-foot versions. The parameters of the design that Ellison has put forward is a
72-foot boat with a 130-foot mast … it’s a big boat. So to get sailors trained, Ellison had 45-foot versions made in New Zealand, and each team bought one.

What will this do for The City?

Conservatively, it’s been estimated from an economic standpoint that it represents $1.4 billion for the economy and 8,500 jobs. So it’s huge. Frankly, there’s a very good likelihood Ellison will win the race and keep the trophy here. So we’ll do it again. But one of the most challenging things is that the race has never been seen from the shore in its entire history. This is the first time it will be seen from the shore and the first time there’s ever been an event that involves the whole Bay Area.

Switching gears a bit, was there an event from your past that prepared you for being Rec and Park commissioner?

Eleven years ago, I was minding my own business when a woman named Isabel Wade walked into my office; I had never met her before. She chaired the Neighborhood Park Council and asked me if I would be the chair of the bond measure to pass for the parks. I thought it would take me no more than 15 minutes to get rid of her and I wouldn’t have to say yes. An hour later, I became chairman of the bond measure. So I went around town giving speeches about how important it was to keep our parks in good shape. Then, you could tell that my middle name was “easy” because I then went on her board of directors.

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