Federal budget cuts force Gary Air Show cancellation
By Carrie Napoleon For Sun-Times Media April 2, 2013 10:56AM
Updated: May 4, 2013 6:22AM
The federal sequester has grounded the 2013 South Shore Air Show in Gary.
Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, in a news conference Tuesday said the cost of paying for air traffic controllers and the lack of military planes such as F-22s will make it impossible to conduct an already difficult event.
“Events like this are incredibly difficult even in the best of times,” Batistatos said.
The South Shore Air Show is the 38th casualty of the effects of sequestration.
Batistatos said the visitors bureau held out as long as possible to determine if the show could be salvaged, but it’s not possible to hold it without the support of military aircraft and with added expenses from federal automatic budget cuts, such as the cost of air traffic controllers for the now unmanned tower at the Gary Chicago International Airport.
“You cannot replace six Thunderbirds flying 587 miles per hour, 6 inches apart. There are no civilian acts that do that,” Batistatos said.
The air show, conducted in partnership with the Gary Jet Center, which started the show with the city 13 years ago, is free to the public and costs the convention and visitors association about $100,000 to $125,000 a year.
“We have spent countless hours considering the effect of sequestration on our air show sponsorship opportunities, programming, attendance and the overall financial viability of producing an all civilian aircraft event. It is with a heavy heart that we have decided that despite our best efforts, we must cancel this year’s show,” Batistatos said.
The air show has been an opportunity to “tell the story of Gary” in a positive way and it is a loss to not be able to continue, said Batistatos, who credited the Gary Police Department with keeping the event safe for the public.
“We have been able to do an arrest-free event for six years in a row. Popcorn Fest can’t say that,” he said.
According to demographic studies by the visitors association, about 570,000 people attended the 2012 air show, which is more than double the attendance of 227,000 in 2007 when the association took over the event from the city. Visitors from 42 Indiana counties, 35 states and 98 U.S. cities have attended the event.
Batistatos said the economic impact of the air show throughout the region is difficult to accurately track because there is no one shopping district in Gary, and money spent by visitors is scattered throughout the region. But it is estimated the air show pumped between $5 million and $7 million into the local economy in 2012 based on each person attending spending $10.
The association is not planning any new events this year but will conduct its 30th anniversary celebration, 30 Stops in 30 Days, which starts July 1. Batistatos did not rule out bringing the air show back in the future if the climate in Congress changes.
“We are taking it one year at a time,” he said.
Wil Davis, president and CEO of Gary Jet Center, said things may change not only in Congress, but in the city of Chicago, making the air show a reality again.
“We have the best venue with the straightest beach,” Davis said.
Runway expansions at O’Hare could one day make it difficult or impossible for Chicago to continue its air show, or at least force it to move, Davis said. “It’s location, location, location, and we have it.”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the cancellation is a result of politicians not working together.
“We are very sorry that the air show had to be canceled. We will see more casualties that are a direct result of parties’ failure to work together,” she said in a statement. “In the end, this has an adverse effect on communities that are least able to withstand the impact — cities like Gary.”