Too much water deep-sixes air show at Fair Oaks
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 25, 2014 2:54PM
SSCVA head Speros Batistatos and Fair Oaks CEO Gary Corbett stand in a soggy field near where the beer garden at the South Shore Air Show would have been. | Carrie Napoleon~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 27, 2014 8:22AM
Apparently, pigs can’t fly after all.
The decision to move the South Shore Air Show to Fair Oaks Farms in Newton County that brought squeals from many in Lake County became moot Wednesday when the event was canceled for 2014.
In a news conference at the Newton County farm along Interstate 65, South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Speros Batistatos officially declared the event dead.
“This is the wettest spring and summer in the last 14 years,” said Gary Corbett, CEO of Fair Oaks Farms. Corbett and Batistatos jointly announced the cancellation of the July 11-13 event, blaming too much rain and standing water.
More than 5.6 inches of rain have fallen in the past week, 10 inches in the last 30 days, and more is expected. The rainfall has flooded 60 to 70 acres at the farm planned for parking and viewing. Corbett said the region is in a wet weather cycle and without the guarantee of dry weather from now until the start of the event, the fields will not be ready for use.
“Weather cycles don’t end overnight,” Corbett said.
The SSCVA and Fair Oaks have been reviewing their options over the past few days, running different scenarios and trying to salvage the event, but with so little time left not much could be done, officials said. There is available land about a mile away, but visitors would have to walk through fields or on County Road 600W, which is the road that will be used by motorists attending the show. The number of shuttle buses needed to move 50,000 to 60,000 visitors would be unrealistic.
Batistatos said it came down to a matter of safety for visitors and preserving the brand for both Fair Oaks and the SSCVA.
“(The SSCVA and Fair Oaks) are known to run safe, family-friendly, responsible events,” he said, adding if the show were held and the fields were flooded, visitors getting their cars stuck to the axles and winding up covered in mud would ruin both the SSCVA’s and Fair Oaks’ reputation.
“I know we are doing the right thing today,” Batistatos said.
The authority board last fall announced plans move the air show to Newton County, drawing the ire of north Lake County officials, most notably Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.
Just last week, McDermott appeared before the SSCVA and apologized for his behavior on social media and throwing his support to the Newton County show.
McDermott and Batistatos last week said they have come to terms after a series of meetings with board chairman Vic DeMeyer and the city’s staff, and they are ready to put the public feud behind them.
“Everybody walked away pretty happy,” McDermott said of the sessions.
Batistatos said he expects the political backlash and second guessing to resume in light of the cancellation.
“To those of you who enjoy political controversy, let the armchair quarterbacking begin,” he said.
Batistatos said it is too soon to tell how much money the agency has staked on the air show. The agency’s legal team is reviewing contracts to determine financial liability. The cost of canceling now is less than it would have been if the agency had waited another week, he said.
Both Fair Oaks and the SSCVA will try and salvage what they can of the weekend event. A juried car show planned for Thursday, July 10, will go on as planned. So far 100 cars have registered. Fireworks planned for Friday, July 11, will take place on Thursday following the car show. Crown Point Mayor David Uran will be leading a caravan of cars from his city to the show. Fair Oaks’ new restaurant also will be open.
“It’s a little way to salvage at least a portion of the event,” Batistatos said.
Anyone who purchased parking passes will have their money, including the service fee, refunded. Sponsors also will have their money refunded. Fair Oaks will continue to offer discounted $10 tickets to its dairy and pig adventures for the weekend. Batistatos said the agency is working with the hotels for visitors who may have booked packages.
Batistatos said SSCVA and his staff is transitioning to their summer campaign and plan to “double down” efforts with the existing scheduled activities such as Festival of the Lakes in Hammond, Peirogi Fest in Whiting and the new events they are promoting for their newest county partner, Jasper County.
While disappointed the show will not go on, Batistatos said he is confident the SSCVA made the right decision moving the air show to Fair Oaks.
“We remain committed to regionalization,” Batistatos said.