Atlantic City was tested Friday when it took on the resort’s first weekend airshow, funneling one of the largest crowds ever into the city.
By all accounts, it passed the test, said organizers, sponsors and emergency management officials, who said no major problems were reported throughout the day. Lines for restaurants, fast food and restrooms appeared longer than in years past, and some traffic delays were significant, but the city’s infrastructure was able to keep up with the demand.
“We had a fantastic show, and we know that the city can keep up,” said Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which presents the airshow. “At this point we’re just waiting on crowd counts and then our new economic impact study. The crowd counts are great, but at the end of the day what matters is the economic impact.”
For nine years, the show was held on Wednesday, but this year, on the show’s 10th anniversary, it was moved to a Friday to accommodate a performance by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. That change prompted predictions that as many as 1 million people could flood Absecon Island and Brigantine for the show.
In years past, crowd counts have been as high as 800,000, including Brigantine and all of Absecon Island. Tom Foley, director of the city Office of Emergency Management, said officials made grid estimates of 5.5 miles of the beach from Ventnor to Atlantic City. In Atlantic City alone, the grid showed 850,000, and Foley said he believed the count would come in at well over 1 million after the other shore communities were counted.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the Atlantic City Expressway, will provide traffic counts, which are a strong crowd indicator, but those counts won’t be available until Monday, SJTA spokesman Kevin Rehmann said.
Meanwhile, airshow boss David Schultz, whose company David Schultz Airshows coordinates the acts, said he didn’t think the crowd counts reached 1 million.
“You do get to a certain saturation point in terms of what the roads can handle, how many parking spaces there are, and how much space there is to move. I think we may have maxed that out with regards to public infrastructure in the city,” Schultz said. “We might be in the 800,000 range this year. By all accounts we could handle the crowds and it was a safe, successful show.”
To prepare, organizers tripled the city’s normal public safety presence. They supplemented local personnel with ambulance squads from nearby towns, plus units from the State Police, National Guard and Federal Aviation Administration, Foley said.
By 8 a.m., about 2,000 people already had set up chairs and blankets on the beach, Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise said. Aluise couldn’t speak for the rest of the city, but said the beaches were more crowded than ever during this year’s show.
While the date change made it easier for more people to attend, organizers said they plan to revert to the traditional midweek date for the show next year. Schutlz said it’s almost certain that next year’s show will be on a Wednesday, and he should also have a date set for the 2014 show within the next three or four months.
Kelly said the Greater Atlantic City Chamber has always hoped to return the show to its traditional midweek date in order to drive tourism on days when fewer people would be in the city.
“The point of the show all along was to get more people into the city in the middle of the week. All of our indicators show that works, and we want to get back to that,” Kelly said.
Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, a casino-funded organization that markets the resort, said the show was an example of a “perfect day” in the city. But the ACA would support the show reverting to a Wednesday to drive more midweek business to the city.
Very few spectators needed aid for heat-related illnesses, mainly because an ocean breeze that intensified during the afternoon broke the heat and humidity that briefly reached uncomfortable levels early in the day, Aluise said.
As usual, lifeguards and police dealt mainly with lost children. Typically, they reunite about 150 kids with their parents during the airshow. Exact numbers for this year’s event will be available today, he said.
Only one problem with the acts was reported throughout the day when one of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds hit a bird and the team decided not to do its final maneuver.
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