2018-04-26 / Around Town


By Rob Duca

Photo by Dan Nerney Photo by Dan Nerney When Newport served as a host city for the Volvo Ocean Race three years ago, more than 130,000 people turned out, including approximately 20,000 to view the in-port race. The estimated state and local economic impact from the 12-day event was nearly $48 million.

But for Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, it was a much smaller number, around 7,000, that symbolized the stopover’s success. That’s how many people lined the shore at Fort Adams State Park at 11 p.m. to welcome the first boat into Newport Harbor.

“It was a pretty chilly evening,”Read said.“It was amazing… We knew that the energy and success of the event would be in our people. That came through with flying colors… [The Volvo organizers] had never seen that kind of passion at a North American stopover.” For Evan Smith, CEO and president of Discover Newport, his “euphoric moment” came on a day at Fort Adams when he stood alone surveying the colorful, joyous scene. “All around me was full of people, full of music, full of food, full of marine-related activities and the best sailors in the world… I thought, ‘Holy cow, we did it.’ It was a fist-pump moment,” he said.

Crowd and winners reveling at the 2014-15 Gothenburg stopover. 
Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez /Volvo Ocean Race Crowd and winners reveling at the 2014-15 Gothenburg stopover. Photo by Ainhoa Sanchez /Volvo Ocean Race Before 2015, the VOR had visited only major North American cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore and Miami. But Newport saw its smallness as a strength. “Events like this get lost in big cities,” Read said. “We focused our attention on the things that Newport and Rhode Island does well.”

That meant, Read said, “painting the town Volvo.” But that didn’t consist only of the window decorating contest among area merchants that opened eyes. Smith and his staff at Discover Newport visited area hotels to brief employees on what to expect. They spoke at the local high school and elementary schools, educating students about the competing teams in the hope of developing a rooting interest. The VOR became a matter of civic pride.

The Volvo Race Village setup is in full swing at Fort Adams. /Photo by Jen Carter The Volvo Race Village setup is in full swing at Fort Adams. /Photo by Jen Carter It worked. The final turnout easily eclipsed the 60,000 to 80,000 that local organizers expected to attract. “We were trying to be realistic and not set expectations that we couldn’t meet,” Smith said. “We did exceed our goals. But we also got a lot of help from Mother Nature. We were blessed with great weather.”

The economic windfall was enormous, with millions of dollars pouring into the state and the city during the shoulder season. According to the local hospitality industry, virtually every hotel and inn room on Aquidneck Island was booked during the event. The demand for lodging extended beyond Newport into Middletown.

The city had been looking to bring international sailing events back to Rhode Island waters since losing the America’s Cup in 1983. “It seemed like Newport would be a very good spot for many reasons,” Read said. “From rum runners to pirates to captains to recreational boaters, Narragansett Bay and Newport has long been seen as one of the best ports of call on the planet.”

But organizers of the stopover, which consisted of Sail Newport, The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Discover Newport and the city of Newport, had failed in their bid to serve as the stopover for the 2008-09 edition, unable to convince the VOR committee that the region was large enough to host such a massive event.

But Newport’s enduring legacy lies in the sustainability program that now serves as the benchmark at every VOR stopover. “We developed a program that had a 60-percent diversion rate for recycling and compost versus just going to the landfill,” Read said. “Our technique of working with caterers to make sure that no single-use plastic was used in the village was adopted by the Volvo Ocean Race.” (See “VOR Features ‘Sustainable’ Stopover,” NTW, March 29, 2018)

The 2015 Newport stopover was also unique in offering a youth Exploration Zone, featuring a scientific and educational area with 22 exhibits from 20 partners under a 5,000-square-foot tent.

Newport’s efforts made an indelible impression on VOR CEO Knut Frostad, who told Newport This Week shortly after the stopover, “I’ve been to an American stopover seven times now and can’t recall anything as good as this. We waited 42 years to come to Newport and that was way too long.”

Without question, the overwhelming success of the 2015 stopover convinced the VOR to return in 2018.

“I don’t mind admitting that I had my doubts if we could pull off an event like that,” Smith said. “But so many different organizations and volunteers worked collaboratively with a single focus of hosting a successful event, not only in the city and on the island, but state-wide, which was really a cool thing. The collective passion and the investment of energy was the single biggest reason it was successful.”

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