America's Cup could buoy bayside businesses in San Mateo County

It’s normal to see big ships towering over Redwood City’s port — but they’re usually filled with bulk goods, not Champagne and caviar.

But that could change come the summer of 2013. Port leaders are exploring ways to attract mega-yachts to their harbor during the America’s Cup sailing race. It’s just one of several San Mateo County institutions seeking ways to profit off the event.

If all goes as county leaders hope, the international sailing event will help fill county hotels and bayside marinas to capacity, and bring business to fishermen turned ferrymen.

The race is being hosted in the Bay Area for the first time, and will take place over several weeks in summer and fall of 2013. Although it has been popular internationally, it has never been a major draw in the United States. San Francisco is banking on hopes that that will change, and that hundreds of thousands of people will come to San Francisco to view the event.

An early economic study by Beacon Economics estimated that the event could bring some $1.4 billion in economic activity to the region — just more than half of which would be spent in San Francisco. Adam Van de Water, the event’s San Francisco chief, said these numbers are now outdated, and said that revised figures will soon be released.

The bottom line is that the Peninsula has an opportunity to get in on a piece of the action, said Anne LeClair, president of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Conventions and Visitors Bureau.

“Our job is to put visitors in hotel rooms, and of course have them dining locally and spending money locally,” she said.

With San Francisco hotels already filling up, those on the Peninsula must position themselves to take the overflow — and not just of race visitors, but of anyone who finds it difficult or costly to secure a hotel room in The City.

County marinas also are hoping to fill their vacancies with mariners who witness the action from the water, said Peter Grenell, general manager of the San Mateo County Harbor District, which operates Oyster Point Harbor in South San Francisco.

“Oyster Point is currently 77 percent occupied, so if we can increase that occupancy, that would be a good thing,” Grenell said. “A lot of the other harbors — if not all of them — are thinking along similar lines.”

That is exactly what Redwood City port director Mike Giari is thinking — only on a very large scale.

“We have some berths that would be able to accommodate boats in the 100-foot to 250-foot category,” he said.
Giari noted there has been controversy in San Francisco about whether to allow such mega-yachts to moor on the public waterfront. No such controversy would exist at his port.

The county’s fishermen and charter boat operators may also make a buck off the event, Grenell said. Some fishermen and charter operators have expressed interest in ferrying visitors up to San Francisco, or securing charters to take people to see the event up close.

“Right now, Oyster Point doesn’t have any charter boats, but I’ve spoken with some folks from Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay and it’s conceivable they may want to come over to Oyster Point for a while,” he said. “They’re definitely following the whole America’s Cup buildup.

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