HAMMOND | The South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority Board of Directors voted to begin negotiations on a contract with Fair Oaks Farms for the 2014 South Shore Air Show.
The 13-4 vote is another step in having the South Shore Air Show move from its former home at Gary’s Miller Beach to the attraction in Newton County 40 miles to the south.
“We’re going to go down to Fair Oaks and try to hammer this out as best we can and put something in a contract form and bring it back to the board,” said South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President Speros Batistatos.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. attending the meeting to voice his displeasure at moving the air show at a current budgeted amount of $380,000 out of Lake County.
“We’re using taxpayer funded money to fund a private business,” McDermott said. “One of the things Speros says a lot is ‘putting heads in beds.’ This is not going to put a single head in a single bed in Lake County. I think it’s wrong. It’s galvanized a lot of people. It’s outrageous in my opinion. It should be held in Gary.”
Batistatos said McDermott has great passion for what he believes is good for Hammond but that “our products are wildly different.”
“The way you run a city is much different than the way a convention and visitors authority are run,” he said.
Batistatos said at Fair Oaks both the cow and pig adventures are nonprofit organizations.
“That’s not being talked about,” he said. “Part of the reason the board authorized us today to go down and negotiate is to bring back some more concrete answers and unfortunately and what I regret this has been media fodder. This has been a business decision by an organization that seeks to maximize the money that it has to spend in every one of the communities.”
McDermott said the board’s decision was not unexpected.
“Speros has pretty good control of his board,” he said. “I think it’s a done deal. But they still can’t answer the question on how much a private business is going to make using Lake County taxpayers money.”
Board members Christine Cash, Christopher Jones, John Kiernan and Darnail Lyles voted against beginning contract negations with Fair Oaks.
Several local officials and residents joined McDermott in voicing their displeasure at the move, including Lake County Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, who said the funds to move the air show should be spent inside Lake County limits.
LaVetta Sparks-Wade, of Gary, brought attention to the fact that the event used to be called the Gary Air Show before it change of name to South Shore.
“I would hate to see the largest event that goes on in the city of Gary leave,” she said.
Jocelyn Prue, of Hammond, said as a business person she invests money herself in Hammond and Lake County and would appreciate “that any funds we have to keep them here locally.”
Nancy Frigo, of Schererville, is a Realtor and is all for moving the air show and the cross-marketing it will develop.
“I think what you guys are doing partnering up with one of the biggest attractions we have in the south part of our territory is phenomenal,” she said.
The director of the air show, Rudy Malnati, who also directs the Chicago air show, spoke at the meeting on why Hammond would not be a suitable location to move the event because of issues with air space involving Midway Airport.
“In order to bring a first-class air show to Hammond we would not be able to bring any tactical demos, no (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds,” he said.
Malnati said an air show affects “people on the ground, too” and that in Hammond’s case, Horseshoe Casino would have to be closed during an air show.
Batistatos stated earlier this month that continuing the air show in Gary “is not a sustainable business model.”