Crusader staff report
The Gary Air Show, a popular attraction that lures thousands to Marquette Park, has been cancelled this year, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced on Tuesday, May 16.
The news came after organizers of the annual summer event failed to secure a corporate sponsor by the deadline on Monday. The next day, Freeman-Wilson released a statement to the Gary Crusader to announce the cancellation of the air show.
“The Gary Airshow is one of the most exciting events in Northwest Indiana. It is also an opportunity to provide recreational opportunities for residents and show off two of our greatest jewels: the Gary Chicago Airport and Marquette Park. Notwithstanding these and other positive benefits, the risk inherent in incurring a $350,000 debt without having secured all of the sponsors cannot be justified under our current financial conditions. Our first job is to be a good steward, and our team has determined that we cannot afford to host the Gary Air show. We know that a fully sponsored show is attainable, and we will begin immediately to work on making that happen.”
LaLosa Burns, the city’s director of communications, said in one news report that the city contributes approximately $50,000 to the show for public safety measures, but couldn’t afford to pay for the overall costs of the event.
While the cancellation of the Gary Air Show is a disappointment to many, the mayor is drawing praise from local leaders who say the decision was a wise one considering the city’s current economic problems.
This year’s Gary Air Show was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 8-9 at Marquette Park in Gary’s Miller neighborhood. Organizers estimate that at least 50,000 spectators converged on the lakefront to view acrobatic stunts by various aerial teams, including the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds last year.
The day before the weekend-long event, many also come near the Gary/Chicago International Airport to view the team’s practice stunts. The air show creates a carnival atmosphere at Marquette Park where thousands munch on food and snacks sold by dozens of vendors. It’s not clear whether this will go on, considering the air show is the centerpiece and main draw of the event.
Last year’s corporate sponsor was Majestic Star Casino in the Buffington Harbor neighborhood on the lakefront. Majestic Star Casino contributed $125,000 to the event while Boeing and Centier Bank were also major sponsors.
The cancellation is the latest of setbacks the air show has suffered in its 17-year history. Former Gary Mayor Scott King launched the Gary Air Show in 2000 after the Gary/Chicago International Airport became the staging area for performers in the Chicago Air & Water Show in 1997.
The show was cancelled in 2013 because of federal budget cuts. It was cancelled again in 2014 because Gary couldn’t afford safety costs, including ambulances. In 2015, many people in Gary celebrated after the city took over the operation of the show from the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, which started sponsoring it in 2006 when the city plunged into a financial crisis.
Freeman-Wilson said the city’s coffers eroded two years ago after losing a property tax assessment appeal to Majestic Star. 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.
The mayor went on to say that since she’s been mayor, the casino’s tax contribution has decreased from about $20 million to $14 million annually.
Fans can still catch the Blue Angels and other teams when they use the Gary/Chicago International Airport for this year’s 59th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show on August 19-21. The event is sponsored by Shell Oil Products U.S. and the city of Chicago.
Planes take off and land at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary. All pilots perform stunts over the water in a set safety area. When a plane does fly over buildings, it is merely doing so in its flight path to return to the show area or the airport.