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San Francisco celebrates pick as America’s Cup

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SAN FRANCISCO — The 34th America's Cup is more than two years away, but organizers already are working aggressively to get San Franciscans on board for an event that could stretch on for weeks and flood the city with visitors.

Members of the America's Cup Event Authority joined city leaders and billionaire software mogul Larry Ellison at City Hall on Wednesday to celebrate the Dec. 31 announcement that San Francisco will host the high-profile regatta in 2013.

"This is a big deal," said Mayor Gavin Newsom, describing the competition as "transformative" to the city and the surrounding region.

San Francisco officials estimate the regatta could bring $1.4 billion in economic benefits and 8,000 jobs to a city facing a $379 million deficit. The competition will take place in August and September of 2013 and will last at least 43 days.

For the first time in the event's 159-year history, it will be staged entirely within the confines of one harbor, offering unprecedented visibility to spectators along the shore, organizers said.

"The San Francisco Bay is the most spectacular natural amphitheater for sailing that God created on this earth," said Ellison, whose San Francisco-based BMW Oracle Racing team is the current Cup champion and responsible for picking the next venue.

Because of its ideal physical layout, San Francisco was considered the front-runner to host the event until early December, when contract negotiations hit a snag. America's Cup officials briefly considered Newport, R.I., as an alternative option.

The main point of contention was the amount of waterfront land organizers would be required to develop for the competition. The final agreement includes piers both north and south of the Bay Bridge and will cost the America's Cup Event Authority about $200 million.

In exchange, the authority will receive long-term development rights to that land.

Ellison and Newsom on Wednesday described reports of tense negotiations as overblown.

"A lot of words were exchanged back and forth in a public way," Newsom acknowledged. "But I always knew in his heart of hearts that (Ellison) wanted to be here."

For his part, Ellison described the talks with Newport — where he owns a home — as a "fallback, backup" plan.

The 34th America's Cup will be sailed in a new class of 72-foot catamarans, a departure from the traditional sloops. Organizers hope the flashy, faster vessels, combined with the up-close views and TV-friendly courses, will help reinvigorate the competition for the oldest existing trophy in sports.

The event could attract visitors to San Francisco from all over the world, America's Cup Event Authority CEO Craig Thompson said.

Ellison, whose team will defend its title in 2013, said he felt a sense of responsibility to the sailing community to pick a host city that would "turn this from an elitist event into a popular sporting event."

Sparing no superlatives, he predicted, "This is going to be the best sailors in the world racing the fastest boats in the world in the most extraordinary place to hold a sailboat race."