As air fair crowds rise, so do costs for GarCo
Costs are taking off along with attendance for the Garfield County Air Fair, leaving organizers to question its long-term future.
The event already has been canceled for next year because of scheduled runway work at the county airport near Rifle. It is scheduled for Aug. 14–15 this year.
The event is in its fifth year. The county created it with the idea of promoting economic development, and attendance has risen from 3,000 the first year to more than 15,000 last year.
Organizers expect more than 20,000 people to attend this year, in part because it has been scheduled so it no longer conflicts with the county fair.
“It has become a very popular event, but the cost has also risen, so do we want to continue that?” airport manager Brian Condie asked county commissioners Monday.
Commissioners conditionally approved a budget of nearly $200,000 for this year’s event, but didn’t consider the event’s long-term future Monday. However, Commissioner Mike Samson spoke in support of it.
“Everybody I’ve talked to loves it. I think going from 3,000 to 15,000 participants speaks for itself,” he said.
Condie said one issue is how much time county employees spend working at the festival.
Last year, they put in a total of 1,280 hours, at a cost of about $25,000.
Over the years, the cost of the event has increased from $2.66 per attendee to a projected $9.85 this year. The county recovers some costs through sponsorships.
In a memo to the county, Condie suggested considering the pros and cons of charging for attendance, requiring fees for all vendors and contracting with a professional marketing company.
He also suggested the county consider hosting the event every other year or discontinuing it altogether “if this event has grown into something that is not reasonably sustainable or warranted in the best interest of Garfield County.”
This year’s event will include jumps by an Army Golden Knights parachute team, wing-walking and flyovers by military aircraft.