Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tall Challenges
I want to steer away for a while from the ever more depressing economic news that is coming at us from every direction. In fact I met someone recently who told me that they had stopped reading newspapers and listening to the radio altogether. I have to say, I thought that was a bloody good idea! And then I heard the even more depressing tones of George Lee on RTE this morning (no one can top his voice for doomsaying) about the even higher predictions for the unemployment figures and now I'm thinking of joining my friend on the news boycott!
Anyway back to the headline, which is I suppose at least related to all the bad news. The Tallships Race is due to return to Waterford in 2011 just two short years from now, over a weekend in July. While the hosting of this event generates a huge economic boost for the region - as did the last one - it also costs a huge amount of money to organise and run. Money which is in an ever diminshing supply!
I see that the Government is funding the arrival next month of the Round the World Ocean Yacht Race into Galway to the tune of €8m. Now to my memory, the Government contributed just €1m (if even that) to Waterford for the running of the 2005 festival.
The challenges facing us this time are greater, both locally and economically. The port company will no doubt be on a tighter budget, as are the City Council and, as we all know, the Government. Local sponsors can be expected to be feeling the pinch also. And the work that needs to be done will be even greater. A weekend visit should ensure even more visitors than the 500,000 or so that came last time and the North Quays are deteriorating every day. I think it is fair to assume that no development will have taken place there by then (under the current circumstances) but the area will still need to be brought back to a presentable, accessible and dare I say, even attractive area.
Add to that that a local champion or Chairman/woman also needs to be found (and soon!) to drive this forward. Last time it took several years of planning to ready ourselves under the dynamic Chairmanship of the late, loved, Nicky Fewer who ticked all the right boxes and was a keen sailor himself, very committed to the concept of sail training. We must be looking to begin that work again soon.
The Government must step up to the mark with support once again. You would have to assume (rightly or wrongly) that with the Minister for Tourism in this constituency, this will happen. The City Council must begin the job of readying the city and the people. The port must again roll in with all the support that made the event such a success the last time and we must ensure that this time we can build a legacy for the Tallships. Consideration should be given to linking in with other nearby ports and instigating a lasting festival - perhaps bi-annually - that will ensure that we don't have to wait 5 years and possibly longer before we can attract these magnificent ships into our city quays again.
We have things to look forward to in Waterford. The Tallships provides free and breath-taking entertainment, a feast for the eyes and the soul, to our citizens and visitors. We've done it once already and the next time it should be even better. Lets hope the festival gets a fair breeze to keep it on track.
Photo was provided by Joe Evans of the Waterford News & Star and show a view of the Tallships with the City backdrop in 2005. Thanks Joe!

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