NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island tourism officials have sharply reduced attendance estimates for the America's Cup World Series under way in Newport, yet say the races will nevertheless give the Ocean State a chance to sparkle on an international stage.
Some 7,400 people attended the first day of racing Thursday. Officials predict overall attendance for the nine-day event could hit 50,000.
That would be more than half of the 90,000 people that the state had initially predicted to visit Fort Adams State Park. Paul Harden, who oversaw the state's planning for the event, said that estimate was created when the state thought the World Series might include as much as nine days of racing. Instead, the event featured several days of practicing and preliminary events before four days of racing began Thursday.
Officials had said the event could generate as much as $70 million in economic activity, but Harden said the state is no longer making any assumptions. The state has hired a firm from Maine to study the event's economic impact.
"It's a whole new event; there was no history to use," Harden told The Associated Press on Friday. Nonetheless, he said, "we're getting great exposure and showing Rhode Island to people who have never been here."
Top sailing teams from around the world are competing in the regatta, the final leg of the inaugural World Series, an event launched last year to lead up to the 34th America's Cup race in San Francisco next year.
A World Series event held in San Diego last fall attracted 150,000 people over five days, according to the Port of San Diego.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who was on one of the boats in Friday's races, said he already considers the event a success.
"It's too early" to draw conclusions about turnout, said Chafee, who is himself a sailor. "From the water, it looked crowded. I think the race is very happy with what's happening here in Newport."
The races will be televised nationally on NBC on Sunday, the event's last day.
Newport hosted the cup race from 1930-1983. The state had hoped to host the 2013 event but lost out to San Francisco.
One local sailing fan said the World Series offers Rhode Island a chance to highlight its beauty and its place in sailing history.
"The cup belongs in Newport," said Catherine Baker of East Providence, who secured a front-row seat to the action Friday. "This is fabulous, and it's nice for a change to be on the map for something good."
While the cup may have left, Newport remains a fixture for competitive sailors around the world, according to Stephen Barclay, CEO of the America's Cup Event Authority. He said it's possible the World Series could return to Newport in future years, thanks in part to improvements the state has made to facilities at Fort Adams.
"It's very special to come back to Newport," he said. "There's tradition here."