A group of aviation showmen Tuesday offered to replace Air/Space America, organizers of the debt-ridden 1988 aerial extravaganza at Brown Field, and stage an event of similar scale in 1990.
Two members of the still untitled group, which consists primarily of the top consultants who pulled together the show for Air/Space America’s management team last year, unveiled preliminary plans in a meeting Tuesday with two city of San Diego officials and will begin lobbying City Council members in coming weeks.
Duke Prichard, owner of an El Cajon aerial banner towing company and organizer of the aerial events at last year’s Air/Space America show, said he is part of the new group bidding to put on the show.
Also included are William Weber, chief executive officer of a Tustin-based firm that organizes trade shows, who oversaw the exhibitor section of last year’s air show; Paul LaGris, another Tustin-based consultant who sold space to trade exhibitors at last year’s show; and Jack Flynn, a San Diego-based marketing consultant, Prichard said.
Still Owed Money
The men, some of whom were fired by Air/Space America and are still owed money by that organization, would stage the event without Air/Space America President Bill Walsh and former Congressman Bob Wilson, who organized the now-controversial event.
The San Diego City Council in February canceled plans for the 1990 show, citing an auditor’s report that Air/Space America would still owe creditors $4.8 million even if the next show were successful. Walsh, however, disputes the figure and Air/Space America is waging a campaign to reverse the council decision.
“Bill Weber, Paul LaGris and Duke Prichard are not going to offer Bob Wilson and Bill Walsh a job,” Prichard said in an interview. “We will subordinate ourselves to a new hierarchy and outline how it’s going to be done.”
About 200,000 spectators attended the 1988 Air/Space America show, which featured trade booths, paratroop jumps, aerial acrobatics, $985 rides on the supersonic jet Concorde and tours of the Soviet Union’s AH-124 transport, the world’s largest aircraft. The reported attendance was about half what Walsh predicted, but Prichard claims that many more people actually attended.
Besides running up huge debts, the show resulted in about $100,000 damage to Brown Field, which was still being repaired last month. The organization also failed to pay the city a $100,000 rent payment.
Prichard said he, Weber and LaGris have the experience to pull off the show based on their performances last year, which he insisted resulted in an event appreciated by spectators. Prichard contended that the show’s troubles largely consist of poor business decisions made by Walsh, a retired Navy rear admiral. Prichard claimed that Air/Space America still owes him $23,000 for last year’s services.
Prichard declined to specify how his group would finance the event, which was envisioned as America’s biennial answer to the famed Paris air show. Prichard said financial support is being negotiated “with some people who I can’t talk about.”
‘Actually Pulled It Off’
Councilman Bob Filner, who represents the district that includes Brown Field and has criticized Air/Space America’s business management, said he is interested in the new group’s proposal and will meet with them soon.
“They’re the guys who actually pulled it off,” Filner said “The council has always been in support of an air show that is well-managed and well-run, and I want to hear what they have to say.”
Tuesday’s meeting included Deputy City Manager Coleman Conrad, General Services Director Terry Flynn, Weber and LaGris.
“We told them we’d look at whatever they want to bring in, but obviously this is very, very preliminary,” Flynn said. The city must investigate whether the new group has the money and credentials to stage a show of that magnitude, he said. The group was advised to take its plans to council members.
Air/Space America officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In an attempt to reverse the council’s cancellation of the air show, Air/Space America reportedly submitted a new business plan in recent weeks.
Prichard said he and Weber were listed as part of the Air/Space America team, even though they have no intention of working for Walsh again.