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Tampa Bay AirFest 2014 template for future

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Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2014 at 04:45 PM

Thunderbirds were go.

And so was the rest of the MacDill Air Force Base Presents Tampa Bay AirFest 2014, say those who helped make it happen.

A day after tens of thousands of people entered MacDill’s gates to see the two-day celebration of airpower and acrobatics, organizers say the first-ever partnership between the Tampa area community and its sprawling Air Force base “was a huge success” and a model for the future, which likely won’t see a similar event for at least 18 months.

“We probably had 60 days of fundraising and pushing on community and a solid 30 days of implementation and logistics,” said Chase Stockon, who led the community fundraising effort that raised about $175,000 to put on the show. “It turned out to be an unbelievably incredible weekend.”

Stockon said that aside from some minor parking issues and a few cases of dehydration on Saturday, AirFest “came off without a hitch.”

Base officials say they haven’t figured out the full attendance over the two days. About 95,000 showed up on Saturday, they say.

“On our end, everyone in uniform performed admirably,” said Terry Montrose, a spokesman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill’s host unit. “It went perfectly and the crowd was full of energy. AirFest went as well as it possibly could have,”

The show, which was canceled last year because of budget cuts, was allowed to resume, but with a lot less money to spend, Air Force Col. Scott DeThomas told the Tribune last month.

That when the Bay Area Community AirFest Committee, an ad-hoc group of local leaders led by Stockon, the founder and CEO of Panther International, a software application company, stepped in.

Though the numbers are still being tabulated, Stockon says the final tally will be about halfway between the minimum $150,000 needed and the goal of $250,000 — which represented about half the cost of putting on the show.

“We were able to do that in that short a turn,” said Stockon. “And it was as big, if not bigger, than any AirFest had been. I heard a lot of surprise from the crowd about how big it was. The ramp was packed, about a mile worth of aircraft and other things to look at.”

Then there were the performances, 19 in all, including the Air Force Thunderbirds performance team.

Stockon says that in this era of continued military spending cuts, the base-community partnership “is an absolute template for the future.”

That future will likely see AirFests every 18-months to two years apart, said Stockon.

“It was awesome to share the base with general public, and give them an opportunity to see what airmen do, but if we do it too often, it will not be as good. Planning something this huge takes away from corporate and takes away from the base,” Stockon said. “If we wait too long we may miss opportunities.”

From the base perspective, any talk of future AirFests “is premature,” said Montrose.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he was “overjoyed” with the show.

“Nothing like the roar of an F-16 or the smell of jet fuel to remind Tampa of the critical role MacDill plays in our world,” said, Buckhorn, who earlier in the week donned his flight suit for a trip aboard one of the Geico Skytyper SNJ-2 Navy trainers. “It was an amazing show and I am overjoyed it has returned.”

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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