The city of Lakeland will waive rent payments for one year for the nonprofit Sun ‘n Fun organization because the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to cancel its annual fly-in, which had been scheduled in April.
The City Commission on Monday agreed to waive $330,397 in rent that would have been due to Lakeland Linder International Airport.
The Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, the second largest such event in the nation, is the group’s primary fundraiser, bringing in about $6 million annually.
City Manager Tony Delgado said revenue generated by the fly-in supports youth educational programs at the city-owned airport, including the Central Florida Air Academy, Aerospace Center for Excellence and the Lakeland Aero Club.
“This is a unique circumstance, and the airport is fiscally able to absorb the reduction in revenues in the current year as well as the next fiscal year’s budget,” Delgado told commissioners.
Sun ‘n Fun is in a precarious situation, Airport Director Gene Conrad said. They will need a successful 2021 and 2022 to recover.
The fly-in, a 46-year tradition, has an annual economic impact in the community of $65 million and all activities at the ACE Expo Campus generate over $250 million annually, Delgado said.
Commissioner Scott Franklin, who served on the organization’s board before he was elected to the City Commission and is now the city’s liaison to the board, said Sun ‘n Fun will have to sponsor the next two fly-ins on a line of credit, a method that was routinely used until a half-dozen years ago.
“Most of the vendors who had paid understood the situation and allowed us to hold those funds until next year,” Franklin said.
“If we get canceled again next year, it will be dire,” Franklin said.
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