The Madison Regatta turned a profit in excess of $100,000 for this past year and used that windfall to pay off nearly half of its considerable debt, race officials announced on Wednesday.

The annual hydroplane race and the inaugural Roostertail Music Festival sold a combined 28,000 wristbands over Fourth of July weekend, and along with sponsorships, resulted in a profit of just over $112,000. From that amount, the Regatta paid off debts totaling $62,368, some of which dated back to the 2013 race.

The Regatta still faces a debt of $66,732, but with nearly $50,000 still in the bank for next year, officials were understandably excited at the news.

“It feels really good to stand up here and tell you that our event was paid for and that we still have $50,000 in the bank,” Madison Regatta President Matt True told the members assembled at the Boneyard Grill for their first monthly meeting since the race. “We were able to cut off half of our debt and hopefully with another year like this one, we’ll be completely out of debt.”

The Regatta had racked up debt at a considerable rate over the past decade, much of it as a result of poor weather that hurt gate receipts. Water conditions canceled the 2013 race and virtually all of the 2015 race. In between, the race was beset by record heat.

The Regatta entered 2018 carrying a debt of $129,000, over 40 percent of which was to local businesses. Officials were able to erase that debt, a total of $52,368, with this year’s income.

The Regatta also owed H1 Unlimited $30,000 dating back to the 2014 race which H1 allowed the Regatta to pay off in three yearly installments of $10,000, the first of which was paid this year.

Along with the remaining $20,000 owed to H1, the Regatta still owes $46,732 on a line of credit taken out on the Miss Madison boat shop on Milton Street to help pay debts related to the 2013 canceled event. The Regatta owns the shop that houses the eight-time National Champions and has allowed the team to use it free of charge since the 1970s.

“We made a real effort to get rid of this debt and it’s working,” Regatta


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Vice President Curtis Chatham said. “This really gives us an advantage when it comes to securing sponsors and dealing with vendors because now we can show that the Madison Regatta pays its debts. This is the best news that we could possibly have given.”

Paying off the debt and rebuilding its relationship within the community has been the top priority for the “new” Regatta organization, which has seen considerable turnover in leadership and focus over the past two years. Three of the top four officers — as well as two board members — are in their first full years as Regatta members.

So far, the new approach appears to be working.

“We’re putting things in place. It’s very important that we repair those relationships that we have had,” True said. “It’s awesome to be saying that we’ve paid off $62,000 in debt. We don’t owe anything from those past races. 2018 is paid off, 2017 is paid off and all the way back to 2014. It’s a good feeling.”

Much of the success can be attributed to the new Roostertail Music Festival, a two-day event held at Bicentennial Park which was headlined by the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band on Friday and the Turnpike Troubadours on Saturday. Chatham said that a breakdown of sales between the racing and music will not be available until next month at the earliest, but he did say that there were nearly 8,000 paying customers in the Park on both nights of the music festival and that race wristbands sold out on Sunday forcing volunteers to use other bands for admission.

“We had a great year and it all starts with you,” True told the members. “None of this happens without all of the hard work of everybody in this room.”

The stronger wristband sales also trickled down to a number of local organizations who help staff gates during race weekend. Chatham said $21,000 was disbursed to those organizations this year, an amount that was the “biggest in a long time.”

Regatta, 5-to-the-5, RCs strike deal

Madison Regatta, the upcoming 5-to-the-5 vintage event and the local Propwalkers Model Boat Club have all vowed to work together to help each others events.

Members of both the 5-to-the-5 and the RC club were on hand at the meeting to lend their support to the Regatta. Dave Johnson, one of the founders of the 5-to-the-5 event, was particularly passionate in his defense of the event and how important it is for all three boat racing groups to work together.

“There is no competition between us. The 5-to-the-5 and the Regatta are two separate programs. You guys put on a race and we go out there and have fun,” Johnson said of the event which will be held Sept. 22-23. “But we’re all here for the same reason: we love boat racing. What’s happening right now, with what you guys are doing, is awesome. And we’re all in this together.”

The 5-to-the-5 is a vintage event that aims to preserve the history of boat racing. Johnson noted that boats racing in this year’s Madison Regatta will be tomorrow’s vintage fleet .

“Our event needs to compliment your event and your event needs to compliment our event and we both need to compliment the RCs,” True said. “We plan on making time for both groups at our event next year and we’re going to be out there helping them.”

As a sign of solidarity, the Regatta relayed a $500 check to the 5-to-the-5 club which was donated by Jonathan Thompson. Thompson, the brother of U-11 J&Ds driver Tom Thompson, paid for an RV spot at this year’s race but due to unforeseen circumstances, he was unable to get into that spot. Rather than request a refund, Thompson asked that the Regatta donate the money to the vintage club, something the Regatta did on Wednesday.

“(Thompson) came in early and he was unable to get in his spot so he stayed down at Dee Bennett’s. And he decided to just stay in that spot,” Chatham said. “He then called us after the race and asked to donate his check. He wasn’t mad at all and wanted make sure that we saved his spot for next year.”

In other news:

True announced the formation of a Strategic Planning Commission, a collection of business leaders, political leaders and media members who will serve as an advisory board to the Regatta leadership and the Board of Directors.

“These individuals are going to provide invaluable advice to us,” True said. “They’re not there to make decisions or to lead, but to help steer us in the right direction. There are a lot of things that we don’t know and that they can help us with.

Board member Nate Davis wanted to give a special thanks to German-American Bank, which sent two representatives to the riverfront on race weekend to count money.

“They worked late into the night doing that and we can’t thank them enough,” Davis said.

The Regatta’s next meeting will be the annual planning retreat on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Boneyard Grill starting at 8 a.m. All Regatta members are encouraged to attend.