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Toll numbers mixed for air show

Gulf Breeze News
July 18, 2013 Edition

The six Lima Lima’s flew over the white sands of Pensacola Beach on Friday. Despite great weather conditions, thousands less flocked to the air show on Friday and Saturday. Photo by Bri Taylor | Gulf Breeze News Even though the Blues were not soaring over the beach this weekend, many people were thankful for a new set of wings that drew in an estimated 161,688 visitors to the area.

Despite the new act, not as many people flocked to the Pensacola Beach over the weekend for the air show. According to Santa Rosa Island Authority Executive Director Buck Lee, traffic was down on Friday and Saturday compared to when the Blues flew in the past.

Data obtained by Cheryl Messier, the Administrative Assistant for the Escambia County Public Works Department, Saturday’s numbers were actually up at the toll booth compared to last year. This year, 18,632 vehicles passed through the toll booth on Saturday, as compared to 17,137 people last year. On Sunday, the toll booths saw only 127 fewer vehicles compared to the same time last year.

Lee “I was originally concerned because there were no Blue Angels,” Lee said. “A lot of news agencies were reporting a 70 percent chance of rain on Friday and then 40 percent chance of rain on Saturday.”

Lee said those reports could have driven away a lot of air show enthusiasts over the weekend.

On Saturday, the air show had to be delayed about 30 minutes because of severe weather in Pensacola according to Lee.

“We were luckily in a little dome out here on the beach on Saturday … the rain was more southeast and west,” Lee said. “There was severe weather warning in Pensacola. Pilots couldn’t get out to planes even if they wanted to take off on Saturday.”

During the Blue Angels homecoming weekend in years past, Lee said he estimated the beach saw an estimated 150,000 people pass through the toll booth.

Beachgoers look on at the aircraft acrobatics act on Saturday on Casino Beach. Photo by Mat Pellegrino | Gulf Breeze News In 2012, an estimated 171,813 passed through the toll booth, while this year, about 161,688 people passed through. But when focusing on the real numbers, that means that only 4,000 fewer vehicles passed through the toll booth this year as compared to the same time last year.

When the Blue Angels originally cancelled their show earlier this year, Lee attempted to offer the Navy money to keep them flying over the July 4 weekend. Authorities argued because the Blues’ practice times were also being cut, they were probably not fit to fly in the annual show this year. After the disappointing news, Lee worked to get another air show to the area.

Lee said SRIA budgeted $150,000 for the air show. That included the concert, additional sheriff’s deputies, a reception for the sponsors and hotel rooms for all of the pilots in Pensacola. Lee said SRIA probably spent just a little over $100,000 over the weekend.

If SRIA had not found a replacement for the Blues, the area could have taken a $2.4 million loss in revenue. Those statistics came from The HAAS Center in Pensacola.

The SRIA executive director said most air shows like this charge viewers to watch the show.

Lee said SRIA really looked at the impact the show had on the local businesses. On Monday, Lee said he had spoken with a few businesses that said the weekend was just as good as any other Blues weekend.

“I did talk to Capt’n Fun’s, and they were saying this (past) Saturday was just as good as any other Blue Angels Saturday,” Lee said. “The RV park only had half a dozen spots available (too).

“We have to look at the bigger picture. Are they (visitors) staying two or three days, and are they supporting commercial industry?”

During the air show, Lee said he had people come up to him and thank him for keeping the air show going, even though it wasn’t the Blues in the skies.

“People that would come up to me that knew me out of the blue said ‘thank you for doing this, thank you for doing this.’ I don’t know how many people came up to me and said that,” Lee said.

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