ENGLEWOOD — The sixth annual Englewood Beach Waterfest powerboat racing event is sunk.
The November event, which focuses the speedboat racing world on Englewood and Charlotte County with the Offshore Powerboat Association World Championships — and generates an estimated $5.8 million for the local economy — isn’t going to happen this year, organizers said Tuesday.
“After examining and reviewing the statistics, health concerns, social distancing guidelines, and other factors involved, we made the call to not hold the November 2020 event during the current Covid-19 environment.” Waterfest president Steve Gardiner stated in a press release Tuesday.
“Although we have not seen an increase in Covid-19 cases locally, as residents and business owners ourselves, we were faced with insurmountable obstacles that prevent us from holding a high-caliber, quality event this year,” Gardiner said.
The event had been steadily growing over its six years, with more racing teams and more fans showing up each time to watch two days of rumbling motors and flying fiberglass, just off the usually quiet shores of Manasota Key.
The all-volunteer grassroots event built itself into an a major attraction to the area as well as highlighting the OPA’s world championship competitions. It also brought the community together for a free street party, shutting down several blocks of West Dearborn Street on Friday nights so fans could get close to the big boats and meet the teams.
In its short life, this year like last year, the Southeast Tourism Society named Englewood Beach Waterfest a Top 20 Event in the Southeast for November 2020.
The news wasn’t taken well in the powerboat racing world. No Waterfest, no OPA World Championships this year, said OPA spokeswoman Dee Ungarten on Tuesday.
“Englewood Waterfest is the world championships,” she said. “We love Englewood.”
In an official statement late Tuesday, OPA vice president Nick Smith said, “The long standing world championship venue, Englewood Beach Waterfest, has been forced to cancel the 2020 event. We are all deeply saddened by the news, as the venue has served as OPA’s finale for a long time.”
Smith did suggest the association will look for a new venue to hold its 2020 world championship.
“The official date of the race is unknown at this current time, but will be in November, and made official later this week,” Smith said. “Please (bear) with us as we work through this, we are more than excited to have the opportunity. We will be updating the details of this regularly in the coming weeks, and look forward to returning to Morehead City.”
To learn more about the OPA and its schedule, visit www.oparacing.org.
Organizers are already looking ahead to next year and intend to “come back stronger,” Waterfest first vice-president Ray LaBadie said. Waterfest, not only for Manasota Key and other Englewood businesses, is a boon for Charlotte County.
An independent study estimated in 2016 determined Waterfest generated $5.5 million or more to Charlotte County from the out-of-county visitors and the racing teams.
“News of Englewood Beach Waterfest canceling is disappointing but understandable,” said Sean Doherty, interim tourism director for the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Since March, Charlotte County has seen a variety of events cancelled for the remaining months of 2020 and into 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Florida International Air Show, which was supposed to be Oct. 24-25, has also been tabled.
“As much as we’re all looking forward to this fun family event, we must remain vigilant, and I think that’s exactly what Englewood Beach Waterfest organizers are doing by focusing on the safety and well-being of our community,” Doherty said.
In the wake of COVID-19, the tourism bureau launched into a tourism marketing and recovery plan in an attempt to compensate for lost business from cancelled and postponed events. The county, Doherty suggested, is already seeing benefits from that effort.
“All are encouraged to visit the website and their Facebook page regularly to stay up-to-date on about upcoming events,” a South Manasota/Sandpiper Key Association newsletter stated Tuesday. “We will all be looking forward to Waterfest’s return!”