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Gary Air Show

An Aeronautical University team of planes soars through the skies at the Gary Air Show at Marquette Park last year.

GARY — The mayor is prepared to cancel the 2017 Gary Air Show if the city cannot find a major corporate sponsor by Monday.

In a statement released Friday evening, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said that while the air show is one of the most exciting events in Northwest Indiana and has many benefits, the city couldn't take on the amount of debt needed to put on the show without a major sponsor. 

"The risk inherent in incurring a $350,000 debt without having secured all of the sponsors cannot be justified under our current financial conditions," Freeman-Wilson's statement read. "Our first job is to be good stewards 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 Monday is the deadline for the city to notify the air teams who would perform.

Burns said the city contributes about $50,000 to the show in public safety support, but cannot afford the remaining $300,000 or more needed to get it off the ground again.

The Gary Air Show has been one of the largest destination events in Northwest Indiana since it began in 2000, but the venue on Gary's Miller beaches makes it difficult to collect admissions from the hundreds of thousands of attendees.

Speros Batistatos, president of the South Shore Convention and Visitor Authority, which sponsored the event for many years, said he can sympathize with Gary's mayor.

"We wrestled with the same thing she is. It is a challenge to find corporate support, especially with the enormity of the footprint of that event," he said.

"The mayor and I, very early on, discussed, 'How do we put a fence around it?' With six miles of public beaches and dozens of access points, it's really difficult to do."

Batistatos said the tourism authority lost $1.4 million during the nine-year period it was involved in the show. 

Officials had to cancel the show in 2013, because federal budget cuts that year made military aircraft demonstrations impossible and again in 2014, because the city couldn't afford police, ambulance and park support services for the event.

The show took place last year, although it was in doubt over similar issues.


Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.