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Published: Friday, 7/17/2009

Organizer says air show won't take off until 2010

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Takeoff has been aborted for an air show in Toledo this year, but the event's organizer hopes having more time to plan will create clear skies for a show in 2010.

Jim LeMaitre, president of the company that had planned to put on the Northwest Ohio Air Show next month, notified supporters that he had scrubbed the event because of a late start in planning and difficulty lining up sponsors. That came after a conference call Wednesday with Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials.

"I'm a little disappointed, but I think this might be all for the better," Mr. LeMaitre said yesterday afternoon. The postponement, he said, "will give us a full year to do it properly and get everything we need in place to do an air show in 2010."

The show planned for Aug. 29-30 at Toledo Express Airport had a tentative lineup heavy on aerobatics and World War II warbirds, but did not include a military jet team such as the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds that have headlined local air shows in the past and typically boost attendance significantly.

While Mr. LeMaitre said he plans to file documents with the U.S. Department of Defense in time to request a jet team for the 2010 event, he denied the lack of such a team doomed his original plan.

"I don't think [the sponsorship problem] has anything to do with a military jet team because nobody asked about it except the media," he said.

Instead, Mr. LeMaitre blamed his difficulty in landing sponsors on the Toledo area's struggling economy combined with a late start he got in organizing the event because of a change of venue. He originally planned for the show to be at Metcalf Field but had to move it because of construction at Metcalf and didn't get port authority approval for the event until April.

Carla Firestone, a port authority spokesman, said Mr. LeMaitre will need to obtain approval for the 2010 dates from the authority's board of directors - but she predicted that would not be a problem.

"It sounds like it's pretty sensible that he's taking the extra year to get all his sponsors together," Ms. Firestone said. Beyond granting access to the airport for the show, the port authority had no involvement in its development.

Toledo's last air show was held in 2004.

The event was plagued by bad weather that included high heat one day and low clouds and rain the next, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce lost $86,000 on it.

The chamber, which had organized that and six previous air shows at Toledo Express, decided in 2006 to get out of the air show business.

Mr. LeMaitre brought the Northwest Ohio Air Show plan to the port authority early this year, saying he believed the Toledo area could support a weekend of "family friendly" entertainment at the airport if admission prices were kept low. Mr. LeMaitre had organized air shows in the Davenport, Iowa, area, where he ran an office-equipment business before selling it in late 2007.

He proposed a $15 basic advance admission, $17 at the gate, with free admission for current and retired military personnel and family package rates too. He also promised to provide free water, which had been an issue at the 2004 air show, and to offer show visitors ample opportunities to meet and talk with pilots.

Mr. LeMaitre said he and potential sponsors had spent about $7,500 on promotional materials for the canceled show, and he pledged to reimburse those potential sponsors for their expenses.

The show plan called for profits to be donated to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a service organization that supports wounded veterans.

Daniel Cannode, the Purple Heart group's Department of Ohio commander, said the organization accepts Mr. LeMaitre's postponement decision.

"I think it was in the best interest of the air show, and we're going to plan ahead for next year," he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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