Final preparations are being made on Santa Rosa Island, for next weekend’s Blue Angels air show, the first since 2012.
For Buck Lee, Executive Director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, what a difference a year makes. He says the cancelation of most of the flight demonstration team’s 2013 season now has many of their fans viewing them in a new light.
“We never thought that the federal government would say ‘OK Blue Angels, stand down. You’re not going to fly because we have budget problems,’” said Lee. “So I think that people are worried now that they may have taken it for granted in the past, but now they realize ‘uh-oh, our friends in the federal government could stop this completely.’”
Lee says the weekend has been booked solid for the past six months – since roughly the time when the Pentagon announced that the Blue Angels would be funded for the entire 2014 performance schedule.
The first event is “Breakfast with the Blues,” at 8:00 Wednesday morning. Another practice session is set for 2:00 Thursday, then dress rehearsal at noon on Friday – all leading up to the main event that kicks off at noon Saturday, with the Blues flying at 2:00
University of West Florida economist Rick Harper says the air show is part of the big July economic picture for northwest Florida.
“If you look at Escambia County, for example, bed tax revenues and thus, hotel revenues run about 4 or 5 times as much as revenues in January,” said Harper. “The tourism economy is enormously important, and July is really the month where hoteliers can sell that room per night at full rate, and also fully booked.”
Public Safety Director Bob West is among the officials expecting a record turnout – somewhere north of the estimated 150,000 of two years ago. He adds that while they’re preparing, those planning to attend need to do the same.
“There’s only one gas station on the island and obviously if you run out of gas it kind of ruins it for everybody, not to mention the traffic problems you create,” West said. “Bring lots of water and sunscreen; dehydration and heat exhaustion are the two biggest problems.”
Blue Angel fans will come by land and sea, but mostly land. Historically, the nearly three thousand parking spaces on the island will be grabbed up pretty quickly, and traffic will back up across the Bay Bridge. Once the crush of people begins to fill up the island, West says they’ll be monitoring the parking situation.
Executive Director Buck Lee says they’ve made some changes to the parking landscape for this show, in anticipation of a record crowd.
“Park West and Park East – Park East is a really large parking lot,” Lee said. “We’re going to have trolleys running to both of those – they’re free – from seven in the morning to six at night.”
“Parking” on the water will also be closely scrutinized. State Fish and Wildlife officers will be out, looking for intoxicated and other unsafe boaters. And another part of the game plan includes every available lifeguard for the entire weekend.
Other tips: be sure to wear shoes to protect the feet against hot sand, and take a beach umbrella or cabana for shade. Open alcoholic drinks are not allowed in public parking lots and no glass containers on the beach. Dogs are allowed only in the two designated dog parks, with the exception of service dogs.
More information on the Blue Angels air show is available by calling the Santa Rosa Island Authority at (850) 932-2257, or online at blueangels.navy.mil/show.