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Showtime in the Sunshine State

FORT LAUDERDALE - The mood was upbeat at this morning's press breakfast at the opening of the 50th anniversary Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

"As of 20 minutes ago, online ticket sales were up 20 percent over last year," said Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist, president and CEO of Show Management, the event's organizer.

A month earlier, online sales were down 15 percent.

"Ticket sales have been coming in at the last minute. We've had a flood of orders coming in," he said - 50 percent more than the same time last year.

Zimbalist said the number of small boats on display is down slightly from last year, but the turnout of megayachts is at an all-time high - 155 yachts of more than 100 feet.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said he was happy for a change to see traffic tied up on State Road A1A, the beach road that runs past the Bahia Mar Yachting Center, the focal point of the show. "This is one of those times I'm glad to see traffic tied up. I hope traffic is tied up all weekend long."

Seiler said the marine industry is vital to the region and the state, generating a $14 billion to $18 billion economic impact statewide and a $10.8 billion impact in Broward County (and Fort Lauderdale) alone. He expressed optimism about better times ahead.

"It's our hope that this event will stimulate the national and international market as it relates to the marine industry," he said. "Perhaps we're at a turning point now, and we'll see the international market take off after this weekend."

He and Zimbalist predicted mostly sunny skies for the show, as photographer Forrest Johnson began a narration of the show's 50-year history starting with 13 exhibitors in 1959 at Fort Lauderdale's War Memorial Stadium. He said the show had weathered adversity before: six recessions, an oil embargo in 1974, Black Monday in 1987, the luxury tax in the early '90s, and 9/11 in more recent times.

"The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show always has recovered from adversity in stellar fashion," he said.

Show organizers hope that recovery starts today.

— Jim Flannery

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