Council Spurs Competition : 2 Groups Vie for ’90 Air Show at Brown Field

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego City Council, after being promised that a revamped Air/Space America will pay off its 1988 air show debt and turn a profit in 1990, on Monday set up a two-way competition for the right to stage an aerial extravaganza at Brown Field next year.

City Manager John Lockwood’s staff was told by council to compare Air/Space America’s 1990 show plans with a proposal to be submitted by U.S. Air Show, a new group. A recommendation is due by April 24, when council will decide whether to hold another show, whether to contribute $300,000 in city funds and which group to back.

The decision followed a lengthy presentation by an overhauled team from Air/Space America, which on Feb. 7 lost the right to hold the show. At that time, council, citing doubts about Air/Space America’s financial acumen and the 1988 show debt, abruptly canceled the show and withdrew $300,000 in funding from hotel tax revenue.

Damage to Brown Field


The show also caused at least $65,000 in damage to Brown Field--Councilman Bob Filner claimed Monday that the total is closer to $200,000--and resulted in some subcontractors suing the city to recoup losses.

But Air/Space America promised Monday to pay off the debt before next year’s May 4 show and to turn a profit of more than $900,000 from the 10-day event. Last year’s show featured aerial acrobatics, trade booths, paratroop jumps and rides on the supersonic Concorde jet.

“We hope to finish off this debt even before we hold the show,” said Dick Shigley, the organization’s new vice-president for finance and operations.

The group also promised to keep the show in San Diego and end its adversary relationship with Lockwood’s office, which had insisted on a performance bond for last year’s show but was overruled by council. New executives and subcontractors have been added to the Air/Space group, and retired Rear Adm. Bill Walsh, whom some council members believe was the cause of last year’s money problems, has been relieved of financial responsibilities.


“We’re going to get along with the city,” Shigley said. “That’s the bottom line.”

About $1 million in up-front revenue is expected to come from show “boosters,” who will be asked to put up $25 each. In addition, organizers hope to get at least $500,000 from large corporations, which will be asked to join six other large firms that paid $100,000 to become “founders” of the 1988 show.

Air/Space America has also signed up the Lufkin Group, which its officials described as an international marketing firm capable of generating large revenues by lining up official sponsors for the show. President Paul Lufkin said that the organization’s revenue estimates for the show are understated.

Debt Figures


Lockwood acknowledged Monday that Air/Space America’s 1988 debt is actually $2.7 million to $2.9 million, as the group has claimed since the debt controversy began two months ago. An audit conducted for the city had placed the debt at $4.2 million, but Lockwood told the council that Air/Space America will not be required to pay off the entire sum.

Air/Space America, for example, said it does not intend to pay about $1 million to an unlicensed paving contractor who they maintain failed to adequately surface Brown Field.

Council members acknowledged that the show, which in its first try became the world’s third largest, is an important source of revenue and publicity for the city.

But they expressed wariness about another debacle of unfulfilled promises, debts, traffic snafus, legal problems and damage to city-owned Brown Field.


“This is a wonderful thing for San Diego if you guys have your act together, and that’s what we’re asking you to convince us,” Councilman Bruce Henderson said.

The U.S. Air Show group, organized by four men who oversaw major parts of the 1988 Air/Space America show but have since split from the group, must quickly submit a plan to Lockwood’s office to be considered for next year’s show.

The group appears to lack Air/Space America’s political connections. It was Air/Space America founder and former Congressman Bob Wilson, along with former Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, who appealed to Mayor Maureen O’Connor to schedule Monday’s hearing.

Wilson, who is chief executive officer of the organization, led Monday’s presentation and has been lobbying council members for support.