ABRA still planning on Tri-Cities races; Water Follies elects new Board of Directors
KENNEWICK, Wash - The ABRA says the Tri-Cities Unlimited Hydroplane races are still on the schedule for 2007 despite concerns about sponsorship dollars.
But it's up to the local race site to come up with the money to fund the event. Local race organizers in the Tri-Cities have been raising the warning flags about money problems that threaten the future of the Water Follies weekend.
There's a new staff and new Executive Board for the Water Follies Association that is trying to find the necessary dollars and pull the event together. Kathy Powell has been hired as Event Director. The new Board includes some Water Follies veterans who have been active in the recent past.
- Kathy Balcom, President
- Karen Miller, Vice President
- Mike Denslow, Vice President
- Paul Parish, Vice President
- John Mosteller, Race Director
- Suz Levinskas, Past President
The Board's got its work cut out for it. Budweiser pulled out of a $65,000 annual sponsorship two years ago when the Miss Bud team stopped racing. The Maurer Group had long planned and produce the Water Follies weekend, but split company with the Board last year. While Maurer managed to put the event on, they were less than successful in replacing sponsorship dollars when Bud pulled out.
HAPO Community Credit Union sponsored the Unlimited Lights races last year. They have renewed their sponsorship along with King Beverages.
"We have to assess what it's going to take from an expense standpoint, to be able to put on the race," said Kathy Balcom, President of the Water Follies Association.
"We're in that stage right now, and as soon as that's been assessed, we will determine and target new sponsorships."
"The national visibility and the distinction of being able to be only one of a limited number of race sites has always been very important because it raises the level of distinction," said Tana Bader-Inglima with the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Revenue losses have plagued organizers for the last three years.
In August, the Maurer Group pulled out as event organizer which made things tougher for new leadership.
"For the past several years we've lost an incredible amount of money. All of the reserves are gone, so we really have to start from scratch to try to figure out what we need to do. What kind of sponsorship levels we need," Balcom said.
The event brings millions of dollars to the area each year, money the region would not have without it.
Organizers say they are trying desperately to get sponsors but if they do not have the needed numbers by March, the will have to cancel Water Follies for the first time in more than 40 years.
"It's a great race site," said U-1 driver Dave Villwock in a phone interview from Seattle. "They do a great job there." Villwock says the state of the sport is good overall, but "it's going to take some time to bring the sponsor dollars back into the sport."
Villwock's had great success in the Tri-Cities, including his spectacular win in 2006 when he flipped the U-1 Elam, ripped up the boat, then came back to win the finals. He says it would be sad to see the Tri-Cities race event go away.