Arrow-right Camera

Nation/World

Boat Races Expensive To Get Afloat Big Start-Up Costs To Bring Hydroplanes To Cda

SATURDAY, NOV. 11, 1995

People who long to bring hydroplane racing back to Lake Coeur d’Alene better dig out their wallets.

It takes big money and substantial organization to handle a weekend with the fastest boats in the world.

Take Kennewick, the nearest home to hydroplane racing. The city spends $720,000 a year to host three days of racing.

The Tri-Cities races are run by an organization that includes a paid director who works on the event all year.

There’s $15,000 in police overtime, $5,000 for firefighters, expenses for sheriff’s deputies who operate two boats, and between two and six Washington State Liquor Control officers. Crowd control includes the volunteer efforts of 25 reserve police officers from Kennewick and West Richland and nine “Explorers” - youths who help with traffic control.

The size of the undertaking is almost reminiscent of the Grand Prix car racing in Spokane in the late 1980s, which sputtered for two years and left sponsors $1 million in the hole.

But after three decades of hosting the boat races, Tri-Cities organizers say it’s all worth it.

“It’s a tremendous community event and it has a tremendous economic impact,” said Karen Miller, managing director of the Tri-Cities Water Follies Association. The boat races, parades and air show attract 60,000 people to the Tri-Cities and pumps $3 million into the economy, she said.

Coeur d’Alene hosted racing from 1958 to 1968, and finally booted the boats after the races went from a spectator sport to a beer-bottle launching free-for-all. Ten years ago, tourism and publishing magnate Duane Hagadone tried to persuade the town to host them again.

The subsequent advisory vote pulled the largest crowd to the polls in the city’s history. Racing lost by a 3 to 1 margin.

Those memories are fresh. “It was a very expensive time for Coeur d’Alene,” said Councilwoman Dixie Reid, a supporter of the races in 1985. Reid doesn’t favor the races today, nor does she want taxpayer money spent on polling city voters about the possible racing.

Team Spokane Unlimited - which bought a used hydroplane last May - and Spokane aviator Craig Frost are trying to bring back racing. They brought Bill Doner, the national racing commissioner, to pitch the idea to the City Council this week.

Doner says hydroplane racing has cleaned up its act. “Whatever standards the city sets, we will meet,” Doner said.

Coeur d’Alene would see between 25,000 and 50,000 spectators and would get great exposure through broadcasts on ESPN, Doner said.

It would be a more sober atmosphere: Alcohol would only be consumed in restricted areas, and not in the general viewing area, he said.

Kennewick confirms that controlling alcohol makes a big difference. Seven years ago, it limited drinking to beer gardens. A 6-foot cyclone fence isolates drinkers from the rest of the spectators.

That alone took care of between 70 and 80 percent of the problems, said Police Lt. Greg Trip.

Twenty years ago the crowds were “long-hair, pot-smoking, acid-dropping guys and gals that made it miserable for everybody,” Tripp said. Now there are families and spectators of all ages.

Race promoters also hire a security company to help with the throngs, and that lowers the risk. “We’ve learned over the years, don’t send a group of uniformed officers into a crowd of 20,000 to arrest somebody drinking a beer,” Tripp said.

The T-shirt-clad private security officers, who are younger and less intimidating, handle most of those incidents, he said.

These sorts of things may mollify former racing critics here. Ray Andreason ran for City Council in 1985 partly on an anti-hydroplane platform.

Today he think’s it’s worth exploring, as long as Tubbs Hill isn’t used for the grandstand.

It’s not clear how much exploring the boat jockeys will permit. “If you get to the point you need an election to do this, we probably aren’t going to proceed,” said Racing Commissioner Doner.

, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE COSTS Kennewick has hosted hydroplane races for 30 years. The annual costs include: $150,000 in prize money, required by the Unlimited Racing Commission. $50,000 for private security company to assist with crowd control. $520,000 in other costs for everything from 200 portable outhouses to advertising and promotions. About $15,000 for overtime for police officers. About $5,000 for overtime for firefighters to deal with the volatile mixture of jet fuel, boat crews and crowds.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: THE COSTS Kennewick has hosted hydroplane races for 30 years. The annual costs include: $150,000 in prize money, required by the Unlimited Racing Commission. $50,000 for private security company to assist with crowd control. $520,000 in other costs for everything from 200 portable outhouses to advertising and promotions. About $15,000 for overtime for police officers. About $5,000 for overtime for firefighters to deal with the volatile mixture of jet fuel, boat crews and crowds.


 

Click here to comment on this story »