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The air show won’t go on in Gary

Northwest Indiana is losing its most popular summer event: the South Shore Air Show in Gary.
Due to federal sequestration cuts the the Navy’s popular Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds have been temporarily grounded this year. That news already dampened enthusiasm for Chicago’s Air and Water Show in August, though the show above Navy Pier is still scheduled to occur.

But organizers in Northwest Indiana had to pull the plug on the entire South Shore Air Show. Thousands typically line the southern shore of Lake Michigan for the annual event, which was set to enter its 14th year this July

In addition to the high-profile precision aerial acts the show usually features other military aircrafts such as a C-130 cargo plane, F-22, F-16s and F-18s. 

Already, more than 30 air shows across the country have been canceled this year and Gary now joins the list. 

“It’s the most popular summer event in Northern Indiana, north of Indianapolis,” organizer Speros Batistatos, of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, told WBEZ Tuesday. “Trying to do this event under the best circumstances is difficult. Trying to replace it with something else with only a couple of months to go, is impossible.”

The Navy and U.S. Air Force often use these air shows to recruit new members.

“These are the governments’ first line marketing contact in recruiting. One of the reasons why you put the Thunderbirds on the road or the Golden Knights or other military acts is so that the young people of this great country can see and say “Hey, you know what, maybe the military might be a viable option for my career, my training and my education,” Batistatos said. “Fundamentally, it’s very silly that at a time when we need more military recruits, we need a stronger military presence, to ground the very marketing core of what we do to me makes no business sense whatsoever.”

And while there are civilian air acts, such as the popular Lima Lima aerial stunt team, Batistatos says there’s not enough of them to create an entire afternoon show. Batistatos said cancelling the show was not an easy decision to make.

“We have spent countless hours considering the effect of sequestration on our air show sponsorship opportunities, programming, attendance, and the overall financial viability of producing an all civilian aircraft event. It is with a heavy heart, that we have decided that despite our best efforts, we must cancel this year’s show,” Batistatos said. “This was a very tough decision, but when options were weighed, this was viewed to be in the best interest of all participating parties of the air show, from spectators to sponsors.”

While the air show could be seen all along the lakefront in Gary, from various vantage points, the prime viewing spot was near Marquette Park in Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood. Therefore, the city of Gary will lose thousands in parking fees without those visitors, along with the loss of revenue from the selling of food and souvenirs. 

In all, Batistatos says the region will lose about $8 million over a three day weekend in July.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was not happy about the canceled show.

“We are very sorry that the air show had to be canceled. We will see more casualties that are a direct result of parties' failure to work together,” Freeman-Wilson said in a written statement. “In the end, this has an adverse effect on communities that are least able to withstand the impact -- cities like Gary.”

Michael Puente is a reporter with WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @MikePuenteNews.

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