Alcatraz at heart of America's Cup action
SAN FRANCISCO -- The latest battle for control of Al-catraz Island is under way. Many have laid claim to the wind-swept rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay since the last prisoner left the federal land in 1963.
American Indians occupied the island for 19 months, ending in 1972. And politicians have floated the idea of building a casino, or even a new San Francisco 49ers football stadium, on Alcatraz.
Now, the National Park Service and organizers of the America's Cup are tussling over Alcatraz's role in the Super Bowl of yacht racing. The island will offer some of the best views of the most prestigious competition when multimillion-dollar boats take to San Francisco Bay in 2012 and 2013. Alcatraz sits almost directly in the middle of the proposed racecourse and offers 360-degree views of the bay.
But the island already receives 1.4 million visitors a year and is at capacity during the summer tourist season. Therein lies one of the main sources of tension over how to balance competing priorities that arose when San Francisco was selected to host the 34th America's Cup contest.
The National Park Service manages the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz and much of the racecourse area. The city of San Francisco is in charge of satisfying environmental regulations, securing government permits and spearheading planning for the event.
The two got off to a rocky start when the city released a draft environmental impact report over the summer stating Alcatraz would be closed to the public and given over to well-heeled event sponsors and other VIPs for private viewing of the race. The report also made similar claims about Fort Baker, at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Both are popular tourist destinations.
"All lands and facilities in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Alcatraz and Fort Baker, will remain open to the public throughout the entire period of the races," park officials declared in rejecting that proposal.
Today, the city's America's Cup project manager says the episode was a misunderstanding rooted in poorly written passages in the report.
Project manager Michael Martin said organizers did discuss setting up private viewing areas for sponsors. But that idea was scrapped.
Both sides say they are continuing to negotiate.