8.14 atlantic city airshow

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will once again be the headliner at the Atlantic City Airshow on Wednesday. The show draws 500,000 to 750,000 spectators, but there is a difference of opinion on how much of an impact on local businesses those visitors have.

Vernon Ogrodnek

ATLANTIC CITY - Hotels are sold out. Restaurants will offer special menus. And bars will open early Wednesday as businesses and casinos capitalize on the Atlantic City Airshow bringing the largest midweek crowds of the summer.

Estimates by the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority say that as many as 750,000 spectators will fill the resort's beaches and other venues Wednesday for the eighth consecutive Atlantic City Airshow - an event industry experts say is among the largest of its kind.

The event generates $56.6 million for the local economy each year, based on a 2008 study by the Spectrum Gaming Group that calculates what an average person who attends the show might spend, ACCVA Executive Director Jeff Vassar said. In recent years, the ACCVA and other organizations have collected only anecdotal information about spectator spending.

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Business owners and other local stakeholders disagree on how much of an impact the show has on the local economy. Some say the free airshow provides a clear boost in business; others contend the crowds that fill the city create congestion and that people aren't likely to visit restaurants and shops.

Two weeks before the show, all 2,010 rooms at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort were booked for Wednesday, and less than 1 percent of the 906 rooms at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino were available. Trump Entertainment CEO Robert Griffin said the number of people who gamble and dine at the properties is significant, though he declined to provide exact numbers.

"The days of the show are the busiest days this town has seen in years. It shows that we have infrastructure to handle major events," Griffin said. "The people who come in see the city improving and they are investing in what they see. Some haven't been here in a year. They'll see more police on the streets, more landscaping, better beaches."

Still, some business owners say they haven't seen a significant change in business during the airshow since it was revived in 2004.

Frank Dougherty, who owns the Knife and Fork Inn and Dock's Oyster House, said he barely sees any change in business at those two restaurants, both located off the Boardwalk, during the show.

He hopes his new restaurant located on the Boardwalk will change his opinion. Dougherty recently opened Harry's Oyster Bar and Seafood at Bally's Atlantic City, where he will be offering a special menu and a courtyard viewing area, which can hold about 800 people.

"Most of the people who come to the show sit on the beach all day. They're hot and sandy. They're not looking for a restaurant afterwards," he said. "But there are people who are interested in courtyard viewing locations."

Atlantic City and Asbury Park hosted the nation's first air shows - then called aero meets - in 1910. Shows took place over the Atlantic City International Airport in 1977, 1978, 1990 and 1992.

The Atlantic City show was revived seven years ago and has had a jet team perform each year as the main act. In recent years, the show has taken on an international flavor, bringing in acts from as far away as Brazil. This year, the show will involve more than 600 volunteers and more than 80 demo pilots.

The show will be headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team. The Canadian SkyHawks parachute team has also joined the lineup, making Atlantic City one of their 30 North American performances this year. Demonstrations from every branch of the military - as well as civilian acts - will fill out the show, which runs from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Vassar calls the show the resort's signature event of the summer. In recent years, more people have arrived Tuesday to view airshow practice and stay for the night, based on information collected from visitor center employees, Vassar said. This year, in an attempt to garner more overnight visitors, the Atlantic City Salutes America's Armed Forces Boardwalk Parade will take place 6 p.m. Monday to kick off the week of the show.

"It's 600,000 or 700,000 people who otherwise might not be here midweek. That's something that's incredibly significant," Vassar said. "There are also people who come for just the day, but when they arrive their expectations are exceeded, and they plan to return. You can't tie a dollar amount to that impact."

Don Marrandino, Caesars Entertainment eastern division president, said it's the exposure the event brings that's most important, but it is also clear that there is more of a demand for overnight stays than there was when the event began. Rooms at Caesars, Showboat and Bally's are all sold out, he said.

"This is not your typical event because everyone is outside, so it's a question of drawing them back in. Not everyone will be looking for a restaurant afterwards, but everyone will be looking at everything else the city has to offer," Marrandino said. "It's about the exposure."

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