Monday, December 31, 2012

Fairhope officials eye return of Festival of Flight in spring

FAIRHOPE, Alabama -- With hopes of using leftover BP oil spill response funds and keying into Airbus’ future presence in the Mobile Bay area, Fairhope officials are discussing the return of the city’s Festival of Flight.

“The Airport Authority met a week or so ago and one of things that we discussed is having another Festival of Flight,” Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell said during last week’s work session. “And that would be held in May, if possible. We are waiting to see if we can get some BP money that has to be used on advertising.”

Mayor Tim Kant said he hopes to hear from Gov. Robert Bentley’s office soon on whether the city can use some of the nearly $500,000 of unused BP oil response funding in the city’s bank account for the festival, which was last held in 2008 at the city’s H.L. "Sonny" Callahan Airport on Baldwin 32.

“You know back when we had the spill we were given monies for protection,” Kant said. “Gulf Shores and Orange Beach were able to use some of that money for advertising and so I’ve asked -- since we don’t have a spill anymore, we can’t protect anything anymore ... (and) we really haven’t done any advertising along the Eastern Shore -- can we use the $400,000, almost $500,000, sitting in our bank account. It’s not helping anybody. BP would be a part of the scenario and be a part of helping to promote it.”

Burrell said he was pretty confident that the funding would be approved but unsure of a timetable. “I think we probably are but then we have to decide whether or not we want to spend it,” said Burrell, who is the council's liaison to the Airport Authority. “We’re envisioning not just an airshow but an air show slash trade show and possibly inviting Airbus. We’d really like them to say they’d be a title sponsor if we could. We could start inviting their suppliers and people who want to be suppliers of Airbus. If we get that name we feel like we can attract a lot of vendors to this and go a long way toward paying for it.”

Earlier in the year, Airbus announced plans to build a $600 million commercial jet assembly plant at Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex.

Burrell said if for some reason BP denies the city’s request then the question would be whether the city could foot the $60,000-$80,000 bill to hold the show. “It’s very expensive,” he said.

Councilman Kevin Boone said the event would be a “win-win-win situation” for the city, Airbus and vendors, and the community.

“To me this is a good, a very good, situation to get people with Airbus, or whoever, affiliated with this town and with this airport facility and the industrial park that’s out there,” Boone said. “Where they can see what we’ve got, what we offer and plus have a venue for people to get out there for everybody to meet.”

The Festival of Flight was first held in 2006, drawing a crowd of about 6,000, and in each of the following 2 years it drew more than 15,000 people, according to event coverage at that time. In 2009, due to uncertain sponsorship the event was canceled by the Fairhope Airport Authority. Past events have featured dozens of aircraft -- military and vintage -- and helicopters as well as food vendors, exhibits and booths about aviation and a free motion simulator. Bi-plane rides were also available for a fee.

Burrell said a festival organizational meeting is set for Friday, Jan. 4, where the group will meet with members of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. “I’ll be able to report back after the first of the year on how that’s coming along,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll hear back from the governor soon on that money.”

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