$8.5M grant, American Magic facility may make Pensacola ‘top sailing destination in the U.S.’

The New York Yacht Club American Magic sail racing team could be calling the Port of Pensacola its new home base after Pensacola won approval for an $8.5 million Triumph Gulf Coast grant Thursday.

The Triumph Gulf Coast board voted 6-0 on Thursday to give initial approval to Pensacola’s grant for $8.5 million to build a Center for Maritime Excellence at the Port of Pensacola.

The board also approved an $11.2 million grant for a Bay County airport project but held off on voting on a $7 million grant request from the University of West Florida.

Triumph Gulf Coast and Pensacola will now negotiate on the final terms of the grant, including potential clawbacks, before Triumph gives its final approval for the funds.

What are American Magic and the America’s Cup?

American Magic is the U.S. team in the America’s Cup sailing race sponsored by the New York Yacht Club.

The sailing community considers America’s Cup the most elite sailing race in the world, where the sailboats are more akin to modern aircraft using the latest technology to try to gain an edge in the fierce competition. The rules of the race are set by the previous winner.

American Magic began training in Pensacola in 2018 ahead of the 36th America’s Cup and returned to Pensacola last year, looking to make the city and Pensacola Bay a permanent training base.

Lining up the grant: Pensacola seeking $15M for American Magic America’s Cup team and 150 new high-wage jobs

American Magic is back: New York Yacht Club American Magic returns to Pensacola Bay with hopes of a permanent base

The team is set to compete in the 37th America’s Cup next year in Barcelona, Spain, and will begin training there in June.

Last year the team was sailing in Pensacola Bay in the AC75 sailboat “Patriot,” which competed in the 36th America’s Cup.

Earlier this year, the team began training in the smaller AC40 sailboat “America,” which will be used for training and the racing boat for the first-ever Youth and Women’s America’s Cup events next year. Both types of boats are carbon-fiber hydro-foiling sailboats that can reach speeds up to four times faster than the wind speed.

“If we win, which we will, then (American Magic) gets to decide where the next race will be,” Triumph Gulf Coast board Vice Chairman Collier Merrill said. “We have our fingers crossed it might be close by. We don’t know.”

What is Triumph Gulf Coast?

Triumph Gulf Coast is a nonprofit created by Florida to distribute $1.5 billion in BP oil spill settlement funds to economic development projects in the eight Northwest Florida counties adversely impacted by the 2010 disaster.

Triumph Gulf Coast is made up of a seven-person board appointed by various senior state officials. The governor appoints one member of the board, the attorney general appoints one member, the chief financial officer appoints one member, the senate president appoints two members, and the house speaker appoints two members.

What are American Magic’s plans in Pensacola?

American Magic plans to make the new Center for Maritime Excellence its team headquarters when it returns from the 37th America’s Cup. While no official announcements have been made yet, the team hopes to prepare for the 38th America’s Cup in Pensacola, including using the facility to manufacture its own training and competition boats.

American Magic will relocate its headquarters from Rhode Island to Pensacola and bring 170 jobs to the Port of Pensacola.

Triumph Gulf Coast’s economic analysis of the project rated it an “A” for an impact on the local economy estimated at $285 million.

The American Magic sailboat makes several passes past the Palafox Pier in downtown Pensacola as it prepares for the America's Cup on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

The American Magic sailboat makes several passes past the Palafox Pier in downtown Pensacola as it prepares for the America’s Cup on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

The project is the most expensive Triumph Gulf Coast has supported in terms of dollars per new job at $50,000, but it is also the highest average wage of any Triumph project, with the 170 jobs carrying an average salary of $105,000, according to an economic analysis of the project by Triumph Gulf Coast economist Dr. Rick Harper.

“This is an amazing-looking project,” Triumph Gulf Coast board member Reynolds Henderson said. “Honestly, you look at that 170 jobs at $105,000 a year. That’s pretty awesome. So it’s exciting.”

How much will the Center for Maritime Excellence cost?

Pensacola is expecting construction of the project to be about $15 million. On top of the Triumph Gulf Coast $8.5 million grant, the city is also seeking a $3.9 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. According to the city’s Triumph application, the city is also seeking $1.5 million from the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council.

The project will finish the construction of Warehouse 10 to serve as the new Center for Maritime Excellence. The warehouse is an unfinished building damaged in Hurricane Sally but still structurally sound. Using an existing building significantly cuts down on the cost of the project.

The city estimates the current value of the building in its unfinished state is about $3.2 million. Combined with another $1.5 million in support from the Escambia County Tourism Development Council, the equipment, and other investments American Magic will bring to the project, the total capital investment in the building will be $45.2 million.

Pairing down the request: Pensacola is retooling a $53M Triumph port expansion request. Here’s what’s changing:

American Magic's AC40 "America" sails for the first time in Pensacola Bay near the Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Bridge on March 9, 2023.

American Magic’s AC40 “America” sails for the first time in Pensacola Bay near the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Bridge on March 9, 2023.

Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves said he was elated that Triumph Gulf Coast approved the project on Thursday.

“With this ask, we certainly wanted to bring a project forward that the Triumph board believed in, that met its mission of catalytic economic impact for these affected communities,” Reeves said.

Early in his administration, Reeves pulled back the city’s $53 million Triumph request for the Port, which included the American Magic project among several port projects, in order to apply for each one individually.

“The modification of this grant request by the city was to get the Center for Maritime Excellence over the finish line and to start to plant the flag for the city of Pensacola as the top sailing destination in the United States,” Reeves said.

University of West Florida’s nursing school expansion Triumph Grant delayed

Triumph Gulf Coast also approved a $11.2 million project for Bay County to aid in the construction of an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul project at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport that is expected to bring 250 jobs.

However, the board delayed a vote on the University of West Florida’s $7 million grant request to expand the university’s nursing program when no one from the university showed up to the Thursday meeting in DeFuniak Springs.

Several board members had questions about the estimates for the renovation and staff member costs and the board agreed to delay the vote until the next meeting.

“I think it’s important that if people are interested in applying for our grants, then it’s important enough for you to be here to defend it,” Triumph Gulf Coast board Chairman David Bear said.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola and American Magic win $8.5 million Triumph Gulf Coast grant

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