Tough Paying for First Flight Events

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

Paying for First Flight Celebration events is as much of a challenge as the first flight itself.

Hampton, Virginia’s celebration never got off the ground because of insufficient funds. The Festival of Flight Celebration in Fayetteville, NC is asking for help from the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County to pay for some $173,000 that is owed to vendors.

Inventing Flight in Dayton, Ohio reported losing a whopping $3 to $4 million during its 17-day celebration even though it exceeded its attendance goal of 600,000.

Update: As of December 21, 2003, Inventing Flight is only $200,000 in debt. Fourteen creditors remain with some claims still in dispute. More than half of the remaining companies are media companies.

I spent two weeks in Dayton for the celebration and enjoyed every minute of it. However, I was interested in hard core Wright Brothers and didn’t attend the “show business” side of the celebration where most of the money was lost.

The free shuttle transportation service was one source of the displeasure.

A number of people wrote to the Dayton Daily News about their poor experience. “Sandra Jones of nearby Centerville wrote about her experience after attending the opening night ceremonies, “I am appalled that the media didn’t cover the sea of humanity trying to catch buses after the Inventing Flight opening ceremonies.”

She continued, “There were thousands of people squashed into a very small area. Many families with babies and small children were being dangerously crushed in the crowd. Elderly people were passing out.”

“The bus service volunteers didn’t have a clue what to do, and the more than two hours it took to clear the area was a nightmare. No water, no bathrooms, no safety.”

Colin Hall of Atlanta, Ga. wrote about her experience with the transportation service at the Huffman Prairie site. “We were told the trolley came by every 20 minutes but there was no schedule. We waited over half an hour and when the trolley came it was full. The driver would not talk to us — one of the passengers explained that we could not get on because it was full. So we were told we would have to wait another 20 minutes to half an hour. By this time children were crying and we were beyond lunch time.”

(Note: There is no food available at Huffman Prairie).”

“At this time we were desperate. My husband tried to flag down a RTA bus but the driver just waved and zipped on past us. As the next bus came we stood in the middle of the road to get it to stop.”

Marty Tommy relates a scary story. “To cap off the evening, we were on one of the first busses to arrive back to the University of Dayton Arena’s dark and desolate parking lot (A designated parking area). It was quite scary for a single MOM alone with a young child. We could only make out white cars, it was so dark, and my car is not white. Where were the lights? Where was security? It was honestly frightening.”

I didn’t experience these problems because I ignored the instructions to park at designated parking areas and ride the shuttle. I drove to all the locations.

The opening ceremonies were a big disappointment for many. It cost a million dollars and was produced by Entertainment Design Corp. of Los Angeles who had planned events for the Olympics — so expectations were high.

William Kincaid from Miamisburg, Ohio represented many comments when he said that he couldn’t believe that he paid $125 for two tickets to see the opening ceremonies.

“Not only could I not see the stage, I didn’t see one minute of the sorry show. All in all, if I had paid $5 a ticket, I would have been distraught. I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one who thought the whole thing was a big disappointment.”

Matt Engel of Oregona commented that the public wouldn’t be fooled again. “I will not belabor how cheesy the opening ceremonies were, other than to say I did not expect the flying saucer to enter via a wheelbarrow.”

“I am not critical of the performers. The production stunk. I am curious as to how they spent the million bucks.”

Another attendee commented, “There were so many glitches and detractive moments it was almost embarrassing! The first musical cue was cut off before the speaker reached the front of the stage – not a good sign for the flow of the evening.”

Celebration Central located at Deeds Park across the river from downtown Dayton was the biggest money loser. It consisted of exhibit pavilions, stage shows and the nearby Orbit Zone that provided amusement rides for kids.

It was supposed to be a Disney-style affair and had a budget of 10-12 million dollars, but it had difficulty attracting people to attend from the start.

Dean Neitman of Englewood thought Celebration Central was extremely disappointing. “I was disappointed to be a Dayton-area resident. If Orville and Wilbur were alive today to witness this poorly organized circus being conducted in their honor, I’m sure they both would rescind their association with Dayton and claim to have secretly developed the plane in some back alley in North Carolina.”

A number of the food vendors deserted Celebration Central because of the low attendance.

MC2, national known consultants, designed, managed designed and operated Celebration Central. Bad weather during the initial days didn’t help. In desperation they cut ticket prices in half from the initial price of $20 per person. But it never really recovered.

I was disappointed by the few Wright Brother’s displays in the pavilions at Celebration Central. I did enjoy seeing a beautiful display of the reproduction of Ken Hyde’s Wright Flyer that is scheduled to reenact the first flight at Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17.

I also enjoyed attempting to fly the Wright Flyer simulator. I didn’t fare too well as I crashed the Flyer five times and failed to fly for even the 12 seconds that Orville flew during his first flight.

Nick Engler, general director of the Wright Brother’s Aerospace Co., may have the answer to what went wrong. He claims that the core of the problem was the hiring of big national consultants from Atlanta and Los Angles who had no stake in the community and its history. They created a “celebration without a heart.” They should have capitalized on what the community already had.

He continued, “Aviation is an art form, and it’s best appreciated and understood by those whose souls that have been touched by it. It was like having the Dayton Air Show Board plan next season’s opera.”

There were many positive events. The Air Show was the best ever and drew spectacular crowds of some 150,000 people. The Wright Brother’s historical sites at the Wright Bicycle shop, the Dunbar State Memorial House and the Huffman Prairie all had record crowds. So did the Air Force Museum and Carillon Historical Park. The Sunday morning memorial service for the Wright Family at Woodlawn Cemetery while the Wright B Flyer circled overhead was special.

President Bush spoke to an estimated crowd of 30,000 people on Independence Day.

The “Time Flies” shows were excellent. There was “What’s News” at the Wright Interpretative Center,” the “Musicale” at the Dunbar House, the “Rhythm and Shoes” vaudeville show at Carillon Park and “Matter of Balance” at Huffman Prairie.

The Black Cultural Festival held in conjunction with Inventing Flight drew a record crowd of 65,000.

The evening ceremony held by the National Aviation Hall of Fame emceed by Harrison Ford was an inspiration for a record crowd of 2,130.

The community is a better place to live for having the “Inventing Flight” celebration. The only thing that didn’t work was the glitz. The admission prices to Celebration Central were too high and people were not interested in theme park rides and stage shows.

I doubt that Orville and Wilbur would have attended the glitzy affairs. The rest of the celebration was great.

The community will benefit in the years to come from the investments made in the Wright historic sites, the Air Force Museum and the development of the westside neighborhood near the Wright and Dunbar homes.

Wright State University has estimated that the total economic benefit to the community from the celebration is $112 million. And you can’t place a dollar figure on the spirit and teamwork generated among thousands of volunteers who participated in the event.

Reference: Dayton Daily News

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