Unorganized ‘race’ full of troubled waters

Publisher’s notebook

OBSERVER Photo A reporter with Speedonthewater.com called last weekend’s boat races in Dunkirk a “non-event.”

There is no one voice that resonates locally regarding last weekend’s Great Lakes Offshore Grand Prix, which took place for the second year in Dunkirk. On social media, critics complained about the lack of boats that showed up for this year’s event. Supporters also were evident, especially the city mayor and some members of the Common Council.

So how do we truly gauge what happened last weekend, since many of us here are not boat-racing experts? Perhaps the piece by Matt Trulio of Speed-onthewater.com gives the most credible recap of the event. It is objective while noting the shortcomings as well as the highlights.

Trulio’s article “Deciphering Dunkirk,” sums it up best in these two paragraphs: “Race World Offshore produced its first race of the 2019 season in Dunkirk, N.Y., last Sunday. But with an eight-boat turnout and none of those boats in the same class — they even had a poker-run boat in the mix — it really wasn’t a race. It was an exhibition, a show for thousands of fans from a small town and beyond, and a decent one by most accounts.

“But it wasn’t a race.”

So where does the city, with current leadership that has embraced this waterfront event, go from here?

By all indications at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, Mayor Wilfred Rosas was pleased — and even counted 21 boats participating. By his math, one boat equals almost three.

He needs to be more realistic. Honestly, we’re not trying to rain on this parade.

In a lot of ways, taking on this promotion makes sense. It showcases the city’s waters and its newly refurbished pier. It brings residents — as well as visitors and tourists — to the waters. It also promotes what’s good about Dunkirk in the parade held on the Friday before the trials and major run on the weekend: a diverse group of our youth taking part in athletics and education.

It also had plenty of buy-in from the business community. Area companies and firms did their part through major sponsorships and advertisements in the program.

“But it wasn’t a race.” That fact from a expert covering the sport comes across loud and clear.

Face meet pie.

Low boat numbers bring a perceived lack of commitment to the event by those organizers who got paid. Why are we supposed to be impressed that speedboats came in late Saturday or early Sunday? It still looked desperate.

An objective account from Trulio in that same “Deciphering Dunkirk” article notes what most attendees may not have on Sunday afternoon: “it was a non-event.”

That could be a deal breaker for next year. How can the city trust that Race World Offshore will not send us another poorly pieced together exhibition?

Dunkirk is not alone in this boondoggle. New York state and Chautauqua County also chipped in some dough.

This was a six-figure event — by some accounts it cost about $300,000 — to make it happen. It is paid for by some of your taxpayer dollars and some of the money we collect through the county bed-tax fund.

Does this equate to an effort that brings an economic impact of $10 million to the city and north county? That was debateable last year — and far from likely last weekend. The evidence for that is the abundance of parking that was available — along Central Avenue and in the lots around Lakeshore Drive.

It was nothing like the Fourth of July, one of the most over-rated but appreciated events that happens here. On that evening, parking is at a premium and traffic can come to a standstill.

Give credit to the city for attempting to have a signature summer event for the last four years. The two air shows along with a boat race and exhibition created a buzz.

That does not mean, however, we need to accept a second-rate product going forward. City Hall needs to quit making excuses or painting a false picture for what went wrong last weekend. Instead, let Race World Offshore do the explaining.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.

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