Plans for America's Cup warm-up off Maui, Lanai

Plans for America's Cup warm-up off Maui, Lanai
Larry Ellison
Larry Ellison

Billionaire Larry Ellison is looking at bringing a preliminary race to the America's Cup to Hawaii.

The software mogul's representatives are speaking with state and county officials about staging a warm-up for the cup or holding another international sailing race in waters off of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Since buying the island of Lanai in 2012, Ellison has considered Hawaii as a venue for the overall cup and has looked at training his cup-winning Oracle Team USA off Lanai.

But in recent weeks, his representative have stepped up talks for holding a warm-up contest here, sources said.

"There's tremendous opportunity where the next venue for the America's Cup might be," said Gov. Neil Abercombie.

"I will certainly do my best to see Hawaii is favorably considered."

Sailing enthusiasts say an international race here could be a huge windfall for the state.

According to race officials, America's Cup contest generated as much as $500 million in economic activity for San Francisco last year.

"Economically, it will be tremendous," said Gregory Dunn, staff commodore at the Waikiki Yacht Club.

"The folks that can afford to race at this level not only will they come to race but they will bring their boats, they will bring their teams, they'll bring their team's families."

It also brings a different kind of exposure to Hawaii's visitor industry.

"You had 20 million views on YouTube of people who downloaded the (America's Cup) videos, Dunn said.

Some consider Hawaii's rough waters a good location for international sailing. During the 1980s and 1990s, the state hosted several international races such as the Clipper Cup and the Kenwood Cup.

But there are plenty of headwinds.

The state doesn't have enough boat slips for the super-sized yachts. Moving the America's Cup here would require millions of dollars in private and public sector investments.

Supporters are also worried about opposition from environmentalists and others.

"I think it's important for an event like this ... that adequate planning is done preparing the community for different angles, not just the economic but from the social, cultural," said Jeanne Skoog, CEO of the Maui Economic Development Board.

The next America's Cup contest won't be held for another four years, which gives Hawaii some time to get into ship shape.

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