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China Lake Airshow ‘a shot in the arm’ for local economy, hotels

A large crowd watches as two Blue Angel F-18s fly over at the China Lake Airshow on March 18.

A robust schedule of events at the March 18-19 China Lake Air Show, which featured the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, provided a boost for the local economy, according to local economic and tourism leaders.

The largest hotels were sold out, restaurants packed, the community booming, and not just from the roar of engines above Armitage Feld aboard Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

“It was an absolutely a shot in the arm for the community,” said Doug Lueck, executive director of the Ridgecrest Area Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Our TOT (transient occupancy tax) will be up, and the hotels did very well. It’s a really good surge for everyone.”

The U.S. Navy, which hosted and oversaw the weekend airshow, estimated that more than 50,000 people passed through NAWS China Lake’s gates. Lueck said some of those numbers might be duplicate headcounts, but noted that attendance was still high.

Those numbers include people who stayed the night in Ridgecrest and those who just came up from the day from Bakersfield, Lancaster and Victorville.

He noted that most of the large hotels in the area, including Hampton Inn and SpringHill Suites, Clarion Inn, Quality Inn and the EconoLodge were all full.

Lueck noted the area’s few RV parks were also booked solid. The RV park at the Desert Empire Fairgrounds and Event Center had no room, and could only offer dry camping options.

Lueck added that based on surveys down around town, general retail stores saw an uptick in business and plenty of gas was sold.

Dan Spurgeon, general manager of the SpringHill Suites and Hampton Inn in Ridgecrest, confirmed that his two establishments were booked.

“Hotels were sold out,” Spurgeon said. “People were having a hard time finding rooms.” He added people were finding it difficult to find lodging at some of the lower cost hotels in town.

With approximately 910 rooms, 90.5 percent of them were booked for the weekend. An average weekend is normally 45 to 50 percent capacity, while the weeks are consistent.

“The increase in demand the airshow brought in 200-250 directly related the event,” Spurgeon said, referring to airshow personnel.

Spurgeon said tradition shows that for every dollar spent staying in a hotel, twice as much is spent in town among retail and restaurants. With an average room rate of $112, he said “the overall effect is going to be pretty significant.

The China Lake Airshow featured the Blue Angels, who returned to perform a show for the first time in more than two decades. The skies above Ridgecrest were buzzing with the iconic blue and gold F-18 Hornets performing practice maneuvers mid-week leading up to the air show. The event also included WWII-era military plane flights and the presence of the Black Daggers, the U.S. Army Special Operation Command’s demonstration parachute team. China Lake’s own Test and Evaluation Squadron NINE (VX-9) made its own impression with two F-18 SuperHornets, adding “some boom to the zoom” with a demonstration of the jets’ attack capabilities.

The air show also featured civilian attractions, including world record holder Spencer Suderman, award-winning hang glider pilot Dan Buchanan, as well airshow pilots Jacquie Warda of Jacquie B Airshows and Anna Serbinenko, a Ukrainian-born Canadian pilot and flight instructor known for her style called “sky dancing.”

While the event had premium seat options, general admission and parking were free, with strict entry requirements regulated by the Navy. Traffic off base was coordinated by California Highway Patrol and Ridgecrest Police Department.

NAWS China Lake Commanding Officer Capt. Paul Dale, called the air show an extreme success in a statement Tuesday.

“We are humbled and honored by the incredible attendance throughout the 2017 Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake Air Show weekend,” Dale stated. “This Air Show was for you, for the community, it was our way of saying thank you for the tremendous support you give us every day.”

“We take pride in the significant, ongoing relationship we share with the surrounding communities in the Indian Wells Valley. This community event was one small way of saying ‘thank you’ for your constant support of the base and our personnel. We are privileged to have called Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley home for nearly 75 years and we look forward to being here for many more.

“Overall, the show was an extremely successful event producing a tremendous amount of community outreach and a better understanding of the superb work the military and civilian personnel across NAWSCL Installation and the Department of Defense perform each and every day. We hope that you enjoyed the show as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you.”

Both Lueck and Spurgeon noted that the air show was unlike anything they’ve seen for Ridgecrest.

“There hasn’t been another weekend throughout the year do this, or in the six years I’ve been here jam us like this,” Spurgeon said of the level of activity and business. The next biggest event is the annual Gem-O-Rama held in Trona that brings in people from all over.

“This is the biggest I’ve seen,” Lueck said. “The Blue Angels are the Blue Angels. We are so lucky to get them and get a surge in the arm for the community. It gave the community a lot of spirit. They were happy with it and upbeat, seeing something happening. ”

Lueck said the air show’s success demonstrates Ridgecrest’s ability to accommodate events of its scale.

“Once you show that we can hold an event like this, they have the capacity to hold a certain level of conventions,” Lueck said. “What I like is that with the Blue Angels [air show], we are able to facilitate very well that it didn’t over stress the community.”

Hotels were able to accommodate most people who came, there wasn’t an exceptionally long wait at restaurants.

“It tells people that they come here that they had a good host in Ridgecrest,” he said.

In terms of coordination, Spurgeon commended the coordination of the event.

“From a participant’s point of view, I think what the Navy did was a remarkable achievement for the Navy because we hadn’t done it 25 years,” Spurgeon said. “People loved it and my hat’s off to the coordination and the sheer will power.”

He noted that if the community had to pay for the entire airshow, it would have required a tremendous amount of money. “It was a huge benefit for the Navy to host this.”