Once billed as the largest in-water boat show on the Great Lakes, the Progessive Chicagoland In-Water Boat Show has ended before hosting its 37th summer in Michigan City.
The Lake Erie Marine Trades Association announced Monday it is backing away this year from the event it founded here in 1980.
The show along Trail Creek this year was supposed to run Thursday through Sunday.
Bryan Ralston, president of the Cleveland, Ohio-based association, would not specify why the decision was made, but said his group is open-minded about getting involved again, possibly as soon as next year.
"We'd love to see a great show in Michigan City. We would certainly be in support of that," Ralston said.
The show once featured 500 or more predominantly luxury boats and various entertainment — like a water-skiing squirrel — but it began downsizing after the nation's economic downturn a decade ago reduced the number of people able to afford recreational boating.
Since the economy began picking up, Ralston said, the marine industry has made a gradual comeback, but more dealers no longer keep as much inventory. The manner in which people buy and sell has changed, too.
Jack Arnett, executive director of the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the decision was not a total surprise because of doubts previously expressed by LEMTA about returning this year.
He said a local event committee was formed and contacts already made with another interested promoter, out of Chicago, in hopes of having an in-water boat show in 2018.
"We do want to try and keep that here in some fashion," Arnett said.
Arnett said the loss is disappointing, but not as significant as it would have been had the show pulled out during its peak, when attendance exceeded 20,000.
Turnout recently has been noticeably lower, and fewer of the people who came were from Illinois, Michigan and other places outside the area, he said.
"In its heyday, it was probably almost a regional event. In the last few years, it's been a very localized event. We want to get it back to where people look at this as a destination to come to to look at those type of boats and make those purchases," Arnett said.
LEMTA annually still puts on four other in-water boat shows along Lake Erie and another indoor boat show, all in Ohio, during the winter.
"We'd love to see a great boat show. It certainly benefits Michigan City. It benefits the greater region. It's good for boating. It's good for everybody. So, we would be supportive of that even if we weren't directly involved," Ralston said.