Balloon Classic future is a bit up in the air

June 12, 2013
photo - Balloonists lift off from Memorial Park Monday, September 3, 2012, the final day of the 2012 Colorado Balloon Classic. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Balloonists lift off from Memorial Park Monday, September 3, 2012, the final day of the 2012 Colorado Balloon Classic. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

The Colorado Balloon Classic could float away from Colorado Springs and land in a new home in unincorporated El Paso County.

The city of Colorado Springs hit the annual Labor Day event with nearly $7,000 in fees to hold the classic this year. This is the first time the event has been charged, said Patsy Buchwald, president of Colorado Balloon Classic Inc.

While classic officials say they do not want to leave Memorial Park, Buchwald said that skyrocketing costs could kill the event. The classic, in its 37th year, is scheduled for Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.

"We're open to all suggestions," she said. "If we can't work through this with the city, then we will definitely need to work something out. It's getting too expensive to be in the city."

El Paso County Commissioners said Tuesday they plan to look for a park outside of Colorado Springs city limits to give the annual event a permanent home. At the same time, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said he has offered to help the Colorado Springs Police Department defray expenses if the event is held again this year at its longtime home, Memorial Park.

Event organizers were told that the Colorado Springs Police Department planned to shut down a couple of streets during the event, including Pikes Peak Avenue from South Hancock Avenue to South Union Boulevard, and Union from Pikes Peak to Eastlake Boulevard.

County Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey said during the board's weekly meeting he is concerned the area could lose the event, which pumps $9 million to $10 million into the local economy. It's also a financial shot in the arm for local hotels and restaurants, he said.

Commissioner Sallie Clark said if a venue can be found, the county is looking at hosting the event, "It seems like it's penny-wise and pound foolish. We really want to see what we can offer. It's an economic development issue," she said. "The balloon classic is a business and brings a lot of business to others."

"We're looking into which parks might be appropriate for this sort of event," she said. "We're trying to find something so they don't have to go through this year after year so it's consistent and dependable."

Colorado Springs spokeswoman Cindy Aubrey, said Buchwald was told about the plan to barricade some city streets at a Jan. 25 meeting.

"They had a meeting in January with Patsy to explain the barricade situation and she agreed to it," Aubrey said.

Aubrey and Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman Barbara Miller said the city had not heard about the county's offer. Miller confirmed that Maketa called Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey.

In a written statement, the city said that after the 2012 balloon classic, the police department "received input from officers that pedestrian safety was of great concern."

"There were near misses with vehicles and officers reported that this had to be addressed," the statement said.

The change "was discussed among Ms. Buchwald, CSPD and the city traffic engineering department," according to the statement.

A second meeting was held Feb. 12.

Buchwald confirmed that she was told about the barricades and that it would result in charges to the organization.

However, she said she was unaware of "the pushback and how much it would cost. The cost came as a shock."

Residents and businesses who will be impacted by the road closures, she said, were not notified by the city. When they learned of it, they called the Classic. Concerns included how residents would get to their homes and how customers would reach businesses.

"It was very poor communication on the part of the city," Buchwald said. "I can't answer a lot of their questions because I don't know."

Buchwald said eight members of the Colorado Springs City Council have told her they will help the organization get additional funding.

One, Helen Collins, said she will "sponsor a resolution asking for additional funding from the city to offset some of the costs," Buchwald said. "The city council has a little different position than some of the other offices in the city."

Meantime, the plan is to hold the classic as planned this year in spite of the roadblocks, Buchwald said. Tourists have already made travel plans and more balloons are expected this year than last year.

"That is our intention, unless the city says we cannot hold it and we don't have any indicators that will happen," she said.

Still, she plans to meet with the commissioners.

"Of course we will meet with the county commissioners," Buchwald said. "It doesn't mean that we are leaving the city and Memorial Park, but if it's a better option, we will explore it."

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