Newport eyes economic boost with Ocean Race stopover

The 11th HOUR RACING TEAM sets sail in August 2021. Final preparations are being made for the 2023 Ocean Race stopover in Newport, the around-the-world race’s only North American visit May 10-21.  PHOTO AMORY ROSS / 11TH HOUR RACING.

NEWPORT – Local business owners and city officials are hoping the Memorial-to-Labor Day period widely assumed to encompass New England’s high tourist season no longer applies, as final preparations are being made for the 2023 Ocean Race stopover in Newport, the around-the-world race’s only North American visit. 

Among one of the most grueling sporting events in the word, the eight-day stopover will welcome tens of thousands of visitors and an infusion of revenue for bars, restaurants and shop owners. 

Totaling 32,000 nautical miles, competitors are currently laboring north through the doldrums from Brazil and are expected to arrive in Fort Adams State Park on May 10, departing for Aarhus, Denmark on May 21. 

Co-owner of Scratch Kitchen and Catering, Stef Bennett, said like many restaurants, her business is still struggling to hire adequate staff. But they still expect an uptick in business, especially on the weekend that closes out the stopover. 

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“As long as the weather holds up,” she said. 

A CREW AT WORK building the Ocean Live Park which opens to the public on May 13. Final preparations are being made for the 2023 Ocean Race stopover in Newport, the around-the-world race’s only North American visit. / PHOTO ARMORY ROSS/11TH HOUR RACING

Newport City Council member and CEO at Midtown Oyster Bar and the Surf Club, Charlie Holder, said the Ocean Race has traditionally attracted the “day tripper” crowd, more likely to grab lunch and visit cultural attractions. He agreed that the weather will play a major part in spending behavior. 

But with the weekend coinciding with college and university commencements, “we are going to be busy as is,” he said. 

Jay Lasky has owned and operated Helly Hansen Newport for over 25 years. The sporting retailer is the oldest licensed Helly Hansen in North America.  

“Events like this are a major boost to the area and only produce great results,” he said. 

If previous races are any indication, Lasky expects Helly Hansen sales to “skyrocket” over the next two weeks, increasing revenues between three and four-fold. 

Along with the State of Rhode Island, Sail Newport is once again the race’s official stopover co-host, sponsored by BankNewport and 11th Hour Racing. The team is putting the final touches for the Live Ocean Park village that will open free of charge to the public from May 13 to 21. Sail Newport Executive Director Brad Read said this year the stopover will be packing more events into a shorter frame. What was a two-week event in 2015 was cut to 11 days in 2018 and will be eight days this year.  

The nonprofit raised close to $2 million for this year’s events. Its current year budget doubled from the prior year, as did its staff, which grew from 11 to 35, said Read. 

Read said the 2015 stopover created 353 local jobs.  

“And there’s many more this year,” he said. 

A 2015 report compiled by Performance Research highlights the economic adrenaline shot the Ocean Race brought to Newport that year, attracting more than 137,000 visitors and generating an estimated $47.7 million to Rhode Island’s economy. More than 42% of attendees traveled from other states within the U.S. The percentage of attendees who travelled from other countries was 10%. 

A breakdown of the $22.5 million in total spending in 2015 showed $9 million was spent in restaurants, $7.8 million at hotels and $3.4 million in retail stores.  

There was no economic impact report prepared for the 2018 stopover, but estimated visitors there eclipsed 100,000. 

And with the village closing nightly at 7 p.m., organizers are confident that thousands of spectators and participants will have time to descend on the city to enjoy its many restaurants and nightclubs.  

“It’s a great way to jumpstart the season,” said Read. “It makes a dent in the seasonality of the hospitality industry.”   

Read said the city’s “good luck” over the years in securing bids should bring future good fortune. Although Newport is a long-established sailing mecca, there is never a shortage of competition. 

“We are now in that ecosystem trying bring more international maritime events to Newport,” he said., noting the revenue infusion reaches beyond Aquidneck Island. 

“This is a Rhode Island event,” he added. “It’s not just a Newport event.”

A serendipitous citywide election last November brought Mayor Xaykham “Xay” Khamsyvoravong to City Hall. An avid sailor and former member of Sail Newport’s advisory board, he has been friends with 11th Hour Racing skipper Charlie Enright. The two were teammates on the Brown University sailing team.  

Khamsyvoravong said the race brings more than the desired economic benefit, but city pride. 

“To play a supporting role as they pursue the pinnacle of a sport I love so much is an honor,” he said. “Sailing is in Newport’s DNA.” 

Read said the stopover also creates opportunities for state investment in permanent infrastructure. A $4.5 million 300-foot pier at Fort Adams was built in 2014 in preperation for the 2015 race. 

“These events can be catalysts for infrastructure upgrades that are not only needed but can attract other events,” she said. 

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at 

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