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Air show may be grounded without support

May 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

If Wings of Freedom air show organizers do not raise $50,000 in the next two weeks, the event scheduled for September will be canceled, Norm Birzer, chairman of the air show, told Martinsburg City Council members Thursday night.

Birzer asked council members whether they could contribute money or services. He said he expects to approach the Berkeley County Commission with the same request next week.

After listening to Birzer and asking several questions, city councilmen referred the matter to the Budget and Finance Committee. A decision should be made by June 1, which is the fund-raising deadline set by the air show organizers.

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For the last 10 years the air show has been held in Frederick, Md., but organizers decided last summer to move it to Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport outside Martinsburg, Birzer said.

An air show is an expensive event to put together, and Birzer said his nonprofit organization cannot afford to lose any money. Last year, organizers lost $35,000 because of low attendance, he said.

Over the last 10 years, the air shows in Frederick have enjoyed good weather, but four of the shows lost money.

Typically, an air show has an estimated economic impact on its host community of up to $2 million, Birzer said. Birzer predicted anywhere from 15,000 to 60,000 people will attend the event, planned for Sept. 18 and 19.

Although several minor sponsors have come forward, no major sponsor has been found, Birzer said. He suggested the city consider becoming a major sponsor, but did not say what that would cost.

The event is being organized entirely by volunteers, Birzer said.

Airport Authority Chairman Rick Wachtel said the Martinsburg airport is larger and more friendly to visitors than the one in Frederick. While air show attendees in Frederick had to park at the nearby fairgrounds and take a shuttle or walk to the event, those who attend the Martinsburg air show will be able to park at the airport.

He said the event will be a great one for families.

Mayor George Karos asked Wachtel whether the Airport Authority could shoulder the financial burden.

With a budget of just $172,000, which is used in part to pay employee salaries, no room exists for such an expenditure, Wachtel said.

Air Guard members are expected to be deployed during the event, which is a benefit since it frees up air space, Birzer said. Guard officials hope to have a C-5 and C-130 on display during the show.

Birzer said the event is not threatened because of a lack of other means of help. Good volunteers and moral support have not wavered, he said.

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