More than a year before the first sail appears on the Newport horizon, corporations, sponsors and competitors are already booking Rhode Island hotel rooms and planning events for the Volvo Ocean Race.
The around-the-world sailing contest starting this fall and calling on Newport next May is expected to be, economically, the largest maritime sporting event in Ocean State history, potentially dwarfing the America’s Cup World Series event in 2012.
“Volvo has generated more hotel-room bookings and special-event venue bookings than any other marine event that we have helped organize,” said Brad Read, executive director of SailNewport, the local host for the Volvo. “And it is not just a Newport event: Middletown, Providence Warwick, Jamestown, Narragansett and even Westerly are seeing activity.
“We are not only the only North American port, but one of two spots where all major players are bringing pavilions showcasing their companies,” Read added. “The business-to-business of this race is intense and relationships with foreign corporations will have lasting benefits.”
Although Newport’s sailing heritage is unrivaled in the United States, its return to the stage of the sport’s “mega-marine events,” as Read described them, like the Volvo and America’s Cup World Series, is more than a cyclical return to fashion.
The state has made significant investments in Newport’s sailing infrastructure over the last three years and Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s fiscal 2015 budget includes $2.85 million to continue work at Fort Adams in advance of the Volvo.
The central element of the Fort Adams project is the construction of a new 240-foot, fixed pier extending from the east side of the park near the visitors center into Brenton Cove.
The state is also contributing $1.7 million to the construction of a new 8,000-square-foot “Midpark Recreation and Education” center being built for SailNewport.
Without the new pier, Read and state officials say Newport could never have won nor accommodated the Volvo race, with its 65-foot yachts and various support craft.