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5/14/2017 7:23:00 PM
No Gary Air Show in 2017, mayor says

Post-Tribune

In a statement released Friday evening, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that because of an inability to attract sponsors, the city could not afford incurring $350,000 in debt it would take to produce the two-day show in July.

After saying the event was a way to show off the Gary/Chicago International Airport and Marquette Park, Freeman-Wilson pointed to the troubling financial aspect in her statement.

"Notwithstanding these and other positive benefits, the risk inherent in including a $350,000 debt without having secured all of the sponsors cannot be justified under our current financial conditions," she wrote. "Our first job is to be a good steward and our team has determined that we cannot afford to host the Gary Air Show."

Earlier this week, she said Monday was the deadline to notify this year's headliner, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, of the show's status. She warned then that the show was in jeopardy.

"We know that a fully sponsored show is attainable and we will begin immediately to work on making that happen," she concluded in her statement.

The show has been a summer fixture for thousands of spectators since 2000.

Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said Wednesday the tourism bureau applauds Gary's efforts the past couple of years to resurrect the air show in Gary.

He said it is likely the city, in organizing the event, has run up against some of the same challenges the South Shore CVA did. Raising money for an event of that nature is difficult, and the large amount of open space also makes it hard to generate revenue, he said.

"At the end of the day, it is just too high a revenue for too low a return," he said.

In 2015, the city took over the operation of the show from the South Shore CVA, which started sponsoring it in 2006 when the city plunged into a financial crisis.

Former Mayor Scott King launched the air show in 2000 after the Gary/Chicago International Airport became the staging area for performers in the Chicago Air & Water Show in 1997. Chicago organizer Rudy Malnati also coordinated Gary's show.

The air show was sidelined by the federal sequestration in 2013. In 2014, the South Shore CVA planned to move the show to Fair Oaks Farms in Newton County, but heavy rains made the fields that were to be used for parking unusable, and the show was canceled.

Last year, Majestic Star Casino contributed $125,000 as the show's main sponsor. Freeman-Wilson said that initial contribution opened the door to more donations.

Freeman-Wilson said the city's resources have been diminished after losing a property tax assessment appeal to Majestic Star two years ago. The city had to refund $5.2 million to the casino after a judge ruled the casino's value was much less than its assessed value. The ruling also cost the city millions in tax dollars.

Since she's been mayor, Freeman-Wilson said, the casino's tax contribution has decreased from about $20 million to $14 million annually.

Freelance reporter Carole Carlson contributed.

Copyright 2017, Chicago Tribune






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