MERRILLVILLE –– The Gary Air Show – or I should say the lack of it in recent years – has become a joke.
It was announced this week that there won’t be a show in Gary on the shore of Lake Michigan this year. The same was the case in 2013 and 2014.
The cancellation this year is because Gary can’t afford the $350,000 needed to provide the support to make the event a reality. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she was unable to find a corporate sponsor. The mayor had a year to secure the money and apparently was unable to do so.
And I can understand why firms like U.S. Steel Corp. and the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. wouldn’t want to pony up the money. Speros Batistatos, the president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the loss of the show is devastating because of the hundreds of thousands of people it attracts. Batistatos’ organization used to be one of the sponsors of the show and lost $1.4 million over a nine-year span.
I’ve never believed the air show was such a good thing for Gary. It has been such a wonderful financial thing for Gary that Batistatos was going to move the show far south to Fair Oaks Farms a few years back when it couldn’t be in Gary on the shores of Lake Michigan because of logistics reasons.
It still was going to be a financial bonus for Lake County despite the new location, Batistatos said. But it never happened. Heavy rains prior to the show made the farm fields surrounding Fair Oaks unsuitable for parking.
While it is a wonderful show, I’ve never believed it is a financial benefit for Northwest Indiana.
Basically, the visitors drive to the show, watch it for several hours and drive home. They may buy a hot dog and soft drink from vendors at the show, but they don’t spend a dime in the city of Gary.
If it was a financial windfall for Gary, Freeman-Wilson would have found the money to make the show a reality. The show is good for Gary only in that it puts a depressed city on the map. That’s it.
Freeman-Wilson said, “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.” If a fully sponsored show is attainable, one has to wonder why the city didn’t embark on that mission a year ago.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. He is a columnist for The Times of Northwest Indiana.