City moves to end standoff with Balloon Classic organizers

July 9, 2013 Updated: July 10, 2013 at 10:10 am
photo - A truck moves a hot air balloon basket into place during the first day of the 2012 Colorado Balloon Classic at Memorial Park Saturday, September 1, 2012. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette
A truck moves a hot air balloon basket into place during the first day of the 2012 Colorado Balloon Classic at Memorial Park Saturday, September 1, 2012. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette 

The Colorado Balloon Classic got a boost Tuesday when the city agreed to pick up the tab on barricade fees, a bill that had surprised organizers and threatened the future of the event.

The city council approved spending $6,596 to cover the cost of setting up additional barricades for the Colorado Balloon Classic, a Labor Day weekend event in Memorial Park that features 80 hot air balloons and attracts an estimated 250,000 spectators.

The Balloon Classic will still cover a portion of the police costs, about $6,800 - a fee the event organizers have paid in years past.

Council member Helen Collins was behind the initiative to pay for barricades. The annual event brings in millions of tourism dollars, something the city is anxious to improve, she said.

The expenditure, which comes from the city's Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund, brings the city's total commitment to the Balloon Classic to $38,146, which includes $21,350 for police services; $1,800 from Colorado Springs Utilities for barricades; and about $8,400 for fire department medical support, parks and recreation fees, street sweeping and city engineering services.

In June, Patsy Buchwald, president of the Colorado Balloon Classic, said she was blind sided by the $6,596 for barricades. The Colorado Springs Police Department told Buchwald it would close Pikes Peak Avenue, from South Hancock Avenue to South Union Boulevard, and Union from Pikes Peak to Eastlake Boulevard, during the event. The Balloon Classic would have to foot that bill. Police said the reason for the barricades was public safety.

Buchwald said then that the additional expense put the future of the event in jeopardy. She said her company had never paid to hold the city-sponsored event and both changes were made without the input of businesses or area residents who could be affected. She held a community meeting on the issue, talked with the county about relocating the event there and lobbied city council members.

City records show that the Balloon Classic has paid for police services in years past.

In June, even with things unsettled, Buchwald said the event would go on as planned in Memorial Park. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Colorado Balloon Classic is a mainstay of local events, beginning 37 years ago. In 2005, the Balloon Classic was designated as a "city-sponsored" event. At that time the city waived all costs for city services for 2005 and 2006. In years that followed the city capped its support to $21,350. Any police costs over that were to be covered by the Balloon Classic.

In 2009, the Balloon Classic paid $1,382; in 2010 it paid $5,890; in 2011 it paid $4,738 and in 2012 it was supposed to pay $7,450 but was never charged due to an error in the finance department.

However, this is the first year the police planned to barricade the streets near Memorial Park for the event.

The surprise bill was the reason council member Jan Martin supported covering the costs, she said. The expenditure is contingent on the approval of the LART advisory committee, which is expected to meet in the next two weeks. The money is from the LART fund, which had about $35,690 available.

"The problem here, and the reason it escalated, is it clearly was not part of the discussion last year in the budget process," Martin said. "That is why it has escalated. We really try to have the costs of these services in place before mid-year, when it becomes a surprise to everyone."

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