Will the Dad Vail Regatta stay in Philadelphia?

Mayor Nutter is set to meet privately this morning with Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and Dad Vail Regatta president Jim Hanna to discuss keeping the historic collegiate rowing race in Philadelphia, as the deal with the coastal New Jersey town of Rumson fell into question this week.

With teams preparing to compete in Rumson over Mother's Day weekend, the window for deciding where the regatta will be held is closing. Today's meeting could determine whether a deal can be brokered to keep the Dad Vail in Philadelphia.

"I can't prejudge what's going to happen tomorrow," Nutter said. But, he added, "our goal, of course, is to have the Dad Vail in Philadelphia. The sooner the better, and sooner is May 2010."

But if the race is to return to the Schuylkill, Dad Vail organizers want the city to reduce the $70,000 in fees it charged last year for police overtime and other services, Dad Vail chairman Jack Galloway said.

"There's probably some number between zero and $70,000 that's appropriate. And the closer to zero, the more likely it is we're going to agree," he said.

The meeting follows a statement from Brady's congressional office Tuesday that questioned Rumson officials' ability to raise the $250,000 they promised race organizers if the event moved to their town, 50 miles southeast of New York City. It is known as an enclave of Wall Street financiers.

Last night, Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl said he still had not been contacted by the Dad Vail Organizing Committee this week. He said that if Dad Vail organizers announced that the race would stay in Philadelphia without even a courtesy call to Rumson - which he said had a "handshake agreement" and had negotiated "in good faith" - he would be "shocked and disappointed."

Ekdahl said he had expected committee members to leave their meeting Tuesday night with a signed agreement sealing the Rumson deal. That they didn't was "a bit ominous," Ekdahl said.

In recent days, there has been a palpable shift among Dad Vail board members about the proposed move out of Philadelphia, where the race has been held for 56 years.

After the release of Brady's statement, some board members began to look differently at a sentence in Rumson's memorandum of understanding saying the $250,000 was not guaranteed, Galloway said.

"If you begin to dwell on it, you say, 'That's surprising, isn't it?' " he said. "I expected the understanding we had to be confirmed, but now I don't know. I don't know if I needed the word guaranteed, but I didn't expect it to say it was not guaranteed."

Ekdahl said there was "no way" the borough could make such a guarantee, though he believed fund-raisers "could have come close to that or possibly exceeded" the $250,000.

The decision to leave Philadelphia for Rumson followed the loss of a number of sponsors this year, which for organizers put the future of the event in question.

The $250,000 from Rumson would have allowed the 2010 event to operate at a surplus, replenishing coffers after this year's losses.

But when Dad Vail committee members visited Rumson last weekend for a "technical review" of facilities along the Navesink River, some questioned the logistics of holding the race, projected to draw at least 10,000 people and possibly many more, in a place with limited river access.

In an interview Tuesday, Ekdahl said that the town's five boat clubs had enough space to store the visiting crews' boats and that if spectator estimates of 10,000 to 12,000 people held true, there was enough room on the town bridge and a nearby park to watch the race.

Tensions between the Philadelphia Mayor's Office and the Dad Vail committee have run high since the decision to move was announced last month.

The two sides have battled through the media, each blaming the other for the move. But a reconciliation seemed a possibility after Hanna spoke by telephone with Nutter and Brady on Tuesday night, setting up today's meeting.

Hanna declined to comment yesterday.

But Galloway said he believed the two sides could still come together to keep the race on the Schuylkill.

"Some of the descriptions I've read about myself were not particularly flattering, but I always think relationships can be repaired," he said.

Contact staff writer James Osborne at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.
Stafff writer Robert Moran contributed to this report.