a closer look
struggle to stage Regatta
has mayor calling for impact study
For nearly six months now, members of the Madison Regatta
Inc. have worked hard to organize another year of racing on the Ohio
River during the Fourth of July weekend. But without a title sponsor
this year and no money from Budweiser to help fund the event, some business
owners and city officials are preparing themselves for a possible future
Regatta without the Unlimiteds.
Or no boat race at all.
Many are ready to move on, but for the die-hard Unlimited hydroplane
boat racing fans and others who flock to the river each summer, it is
hard to let go.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington has heard enough concern from residents
and the business community this year to do something about it. Soon
after this years Madison Regatta is over, he plans to gather a
group of community minded people to study the impact and future viability
of the event. He believes that such a group must consist of some Regatta
faithful but also non-Regatta supporters who can take an objective look
at a variety of factors.
Huntington says he admires the devotion that many people have to the
55-year tradition in Madison, however, he also considers himself a realist.
And if the Madison Regattas Unlimited boat racing show isnt
enough to attract a title sponsor willing to put up $30,000 to $50,000
to put their name on the event, he figures maybe its time to move
on to something else that will?
When you look at the Madison Ribberfest and how successful and
popular that event is after only three years, you begin to wonder if
boat racing is really what people want these days, Huntington
said during a June 24 interview. Today, NASCAR (auto racing) is
hot, but by comparison, very few people have ever seen a hydroplane
race. Maybe the market and the demographics are changing, and people
are looking for other things to do?
Huntington wants the study to provide answers to several questions that
he and others are asking:
What is the economic impact on the community?
What is the level of community interest in the Madison Regatta?
What is the new American Boat Racing Association going to do
for the race site?
If Madison cant afford to stage an Unlimited boat race,
what alternatives are there?
Huntington said he hopes to meet with ABRA officials over Regatta weekend
to see what plans they have to support the race sites next year. I
think it will be incumbent upon the ABRA to show us what they can do
for Madison, not what Madison can do for them.
He also wants some hard data from the independent study to determine
if the Regatta is still an economically viable event for the community.
We need to get some accountants and bankers and marketing experts
and business people involved some people who are not directly
involved with the Regatta, he said.
Huntington said he has no answers or preconceived notions about the
studys outcome. He is hoping that Regatta members will agree that
such a study would be beneficial.
We cant keep going on this way not knowing if were
going to meet the gate each year, and that is no reflection at all on
the Regatta committee. But theyve got to pay their bills, and
not just the boat teams and the ABRA but also local vendors here in
town who help support them all year-round.
Last fall, Madison Regatta Inc. issued a press release summarizing the
economic benefits the event has on the community. The race
weekend pumps $120,000 directly into the Madison economy through the
purchase of goods and services, the release said. Another $13,000 was
donated by the Regatta committee to various non-profit groups who helped
stage the event. The report cited a net profit for the fifth consecutive
Budweiser served as the events title sponsor the past three years.
Prior to that, Belterra Casino Resort was the sponsor for two years.
Jasper Engines was the sponsor in 1999.
Aside from hotels, restaurants, gas stations, bars and liquor stores,
many business owners along Main Street say other retailers gain little
from the Regatta itself. However, the Regatta Festival, which runs the
week leading up to race weekend, enjoys strong local support from a
variety of businesses. Perhaps for that reason, and the longstanding
tradition of the event, merchants voice support for some type of holiday
The Regatta is a good event for us, business-wise, but not as
good as the Madison Chautauqua (Festival of Art in September),
said Cindy Jones, owner of Cafe Camille on Main Street.
We have a lot of people who come into our restaurant to eat and
drink, so we support the Regatta, said Ryan Shaw, manager of Historic
Broadway Hotel & Tavern. We buy wristbands and advertise with
the Regatta committee. We do whatever we can for the Regatta.
He added that Regatta and Chautauqua are the biggest weekends for his
Best Western of Madison is located on the hilltop but is always full
for the Madison Regatta. Many boat team members stay there. Owner Matt
Griswold said he would probably still have good business during a Regatta
held without the Unlimiteds, but I like the Unlimiteds. Without
them, it would definitely have an impact on Madison.
Best Western served as the sponsor of the Regattas recent Texas
Hold-em Poker Tournament and is an associate sponsor for the Media Tent.
Two new Main Street businesses in town have yet to experience a Regatta,
but Phyllis Lovely of Lovely Creations gift shop and Debbie Miller of
Dusty Miller Antiques are anxious to see it. Lovely worries that the
price increase for admission wristbands may keep some people away this
year. Or they may go to the Kentucky side where they can watch the races
for less money. Miller, meanwhile, who recently moved here from the
Chicago area, has done well selling racing collectibles and hopes to
do well over the Regatta weekend.
Its a neat thing for a small community to have, Miller
said. It would be sad if they didnt have the Unlimiteds.
Back to July 2005 Articles.