Although Tampa’s metro waterways are known in sculling circles across the nation as prime oar-dipping venues, the regatta is taking place nowhere near downtown. Instead, the Tampa Mayor’s Cup will be held at Harney Park on the Tampa Bypass Canal about 10 miles from downtown and a couple of miles outside the city limits.
The change of location can be traced to economics.
Holding the races on Seddon Channel or the lower Hillsborough River would mean race organizers would have to pay a fee to the city for a couple of police vessels to keep boating traffic from puttering onto the raceway.
City spokeswoman Ali Glisson said the cost of two boats with two officers on each boat would be about $1,700. Although downtown waterways would be great for the regatta, the city for the past few years no longer co-sponsors events or picks up the tab for those kinds of services.
If an organization stages an event, Glisson said, it now has to pay those costs.
“It’s because of the budget,” she said. “We are just not in a position to co-sponsor new events.”
Race organizers are not complaining, but they do say downtown Tampa is missing out on a chance to show off a bit.
“This would be an event for the city that a lot of people would go out to watch,” said Jorge J. Rodriguez, founding member and current president of the Tampa Rowing Club. “What cost is it to the city to put two boats out there for eight hours?
“This is an activity the city would benefit from having,” he said, “and the city isn’t using it.”
He mentioned Sarasota, home to a park that is becoming a $40 million rowing venue built to attract world-class sculling events.
Sarasota, he said, is host to the national Masters Championship in August and is preparing to bid for the World Rowing Championship in 2017, “bringing millions of dollars in tourism and fantastic exposure to Sarasota.”
For Tampa, he said: “Opportunity missed.”
The race here this weekend is drawing college rowing teams from the far North and high school and middle school teams and clubs from across he state.
More than 700 rowers are expected to hop into sculls and race in the regatta. On the shores: parents, friends and supporters and rowing fans. It would be perfect, Rodriguez said, for downtown.
The regatta is sponsored by The Stewards Foundation, a nonprofit group that encourages youths to row. It’s run on a sparse budget and relies on entry-fee revenue from the regatta to help buy boats and equipment.
Rowing in downtown waterways is a common sight this time of year as college teams from the Northeast and Midwest escape the frigid winter and come here to train. Stretches of the lower Hillsborough River and the channels around Davis Islands and Harbor Island are flush with sculls at all times of the day.
The Mayor’s Cup is a reincarnation of the President’s Cup, held for decades, but ending in the 1980s when the University of Tampa’s rowing program stopped hosting it. In 2008, the Mayor’s Cup debuted. Trophies typically are handed out by the mayor of Tampa.
A few years ago, costs forced the regatta out of town, Rodriguez said. Boating traffic is nonexistent on the bypass canal, meaning no need to pay for law enforcement vessels.
And the venue is not a bad waterway for races either, he said.
“It’s straight. It has high shores that prevent winds from affecting the rowers. There is no current and it’s deep enough.”
But the savings and racing conditions are offset by the lack of visibility, Rodriguez said, and that means fewer spectators.
Tom Feaster, president of The Stewards Foundation, said the bypass canal is better for racers, but for drumming up support for the sport, there’s no place like downtown.
“We would really prefer the venue at Davis Islands,” Feaster said. “I think, from a spectator’s perspective, it always has been successful with regattas out there. The problem is that to have races there, we have to close the channel and that means we have to have a lot of marine patrol and those guys don’t work for nothing. So, you wind up, unless you get a big sponsor, losing money,” he said.