America's Cup boat a worthy investment

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (04/17/99)
By Ray Pendleton

It was the classic pessimist vs. optimist viewpoint question, "Is the glass half empty, or half full."

A recent headline read, "Regatta may cost state $3 million." But, to me, it could have just as easily read, "State will get $10 million return on $3 million investment."

The story below the headline reported on our legislature's consideration of a bill which would help fund Hawaii's America's Cup challenger - the Aloha Racing Team - which is currently building two, 75-foot, America's Cup-class boats near the soon-to-completed Ko` Olina Resort Marina.

By mid-June, both boats should be tuning up offshore of leeward O`ahu before they are shipped to Auckland, where they will be one of about a dozen challengers to the New Zealand Royal Yacht Squadron, the present cup holder.

Aloha Racing's total budget is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $18- to $20-million, and comes primarily from private contributors, such as HealthSouth, a nationwide sports medicine corporation. But, the team has approached the state legislature and the Hawai`i Tourist Authority for help because it seems consistent with the state's efforts to promote Hawai`i and to encourage new business investments here.

"We will have spent $3.5 million in Hawai`i before we even ship our boats to New Zealand in September," Aloha Racing's D.J. Cathcart has pointed out. "And we have created a state-of-the-art boat-building facility here, while training people to work in it."

"During the nearly five months we will be in New Zealand, Hawai`i can expect at least $10 million in television and other media coverage," Cathcart added.

Beyond the financial return for just competing in New Zealand is, of course, what could happen in the very possible situation that Aloha Racing prevails and brings the cup to Hawai`i.

The Kiwis predict they will take in more than $1.8 billion in revenue this year's contest, so a conservative estimate for an America's Cup race in our state in 2003 could be over $2 billion. That's billion, with a B.

Couple that kind of monetary influx into Hawai`i with a corresponding build-up of the recreational marine infrastructure - new boat facilities for each challenging team, in Keehi Lagoon perhaps - and we would see a dramatic rejuvenation of our state's recreational boating industry, which has been dormant for many years.

I can can understand the concerns voiced by Rep. Dennis Arakaki regarding Hawaii's many other needs in health and human services. Everyone should recognize our on-going economic slump certainly doesn't allow for frivolous spending.

But, I hope he and other concerned legislators will consider that there will never be enough revenue for worthy social services without an upturn in our general economy. Assisting Aloha Racing might be one way to help in that cause, and with much less of a gamble than with legalized betting.

The following possible scenario is just a case in point.

Once Aloha Racing's two Wyland-painted boats are attracting international media attention at the Ko` Olina Resort Marina, public interest in the leases of slips there will skyrocket. New boats sales will climb because buyers will have a new place to keep one, and then, correspondingly, boat supplies and maintenance will be in more demand.

All of this, of course, means an increase in income and excise taxes to the state.

Can it really happen? Ask any boater from San Diego, Calif., to Auckland, New Zealand.

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