Crowds at the 11th annual Atlantic City Airshow were less than half the size of last year’s spectator counts.
City Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said an estimated 400,000 people watched Wednesday’s show from Atlantic City. That compares with more than 908,000 people officials said were drawn to the city for last year’s show.
Officials, however, still called the day a victory for the resort, which otherwise wouldn’t have seen anywhere near that level of visitation on a typical Wednesday in June. Last year’s show was held on a Friday in August in the heart of the summer tourism season.
“When you look at how this compares to a normal day in June, there’s just no comparison,” Foley said. “We’d normally have maybe 100,000 people out here. This is amazing.”
Liza Cartmell, CEO of the Atlantic City Alliance, a casino-funded nonprofit marketing group, said Atlantic City has a saturation point, and the enormous crowds of 2012 might have left some feeling claustrophobic.
“It can reach a point where it’s just not fun,” she said. “This is a different kind of show. It draws a different kind of person.”
Organizers were prepared for smaller crowds this year as the show faced a number of challenges. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds didn’t include Atlantic City on their list of shows announced last year. Months later, organizers discovered that if the show were to go on it would have to do so without a single military act, as federal budget cuts grounded them.
While the flying was left to civilian performers such as Warrior Aviation, a nonprofit organization of aviation enthusiasts, there was still a military presence. Military recruiters and veterans organizations set up information tents on the Boardwalk.
Senior Chief Richard Ray, 44, of Egg Harbor Township, said he came to increase awareness about the Coast Guard but also welcomed the chance to meet other service members and veterans.
“We’re just out here to wave the colors,” said Ray, who is a company commander at Coast Guard Station Cape May. He was there with members of the Coast Guard’s recruiting office in Northfield.
A number of people who came out to Wednesday’s show said they had never been to an Atlantic City airshow before but decided to make the trip with so many other airshows around the country canceled.
Among them was the Patelmo family, of Willow Grove, Pa., who drove in Tuesday and stayed at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Tuesday night to get an early start for Wednesday’s show.
Nine-year-old Ava Patelmo drew a crowd at a Navy recruitment booth on the Boardwalk when she completed nine pull-ups in a challenge that had proved too hard for many adults.
“I do gymnastics,” she said when asked about her abilities.
Ava’s dad, Phil Patelmo, said the show was a great family attraction that kept his children’s interest.
“There’s plenty to do. We’re loving it,” he said.
The flyovers began about 11:30 a.m. high above Atlantic City. First time Atlantic City performers The 4CE, founded in 2011, drew immediate attention from spectators about noon as they left a trail of smoke in the shape of a heart above the beaches.
“He’s just hit that age where he’s in love with planes,” said Karyn Clarkson, 36, of Newark, as she lifted her 5-year-old nephew Alonso Marquez over her shoulders. “Lonso couldn’t wait to get down here to see them.”
Fans grabbed the best viewing spots early, while the city readied for the crowd.
While fans such as Alonso were eager to watch the show, there were some waiting for it to end. The city’s rolling chair operators relaxed in their chairs because the city forbade them from accepting passengers between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“A lot of people are asking for rides, but we can’t push them, so I’m going home to relax,” said Mohammad Ranjbar, 62, of Atlantic City. “I’ve been here nine years. This is not news,” he said of the airshow.
Organizers eliminated VIP seating areas this year in an effort to drive more business to the Boardwalk.
Despite the closing of its observation deck, many gathered at The Pier at Caesars to watch the show from the comfort of an air-conditioned space. One of them was Danny Taylor, 21, of Bridgeton, who came with a group of friends from the area.
“If you can get away with it, why not?” He said.
Contact Jennifer Bogdan:
Follow @ACPressJennifer on Twitter
Contact Wallace McKelvey:
Follow @wjmckelvey on Twitter