The Colorado Balloon Classic's 38th annual celebration this Labor Day weekend will be its last in Colorado Springs, the organization behind the event announced Friday.
Because of "politics within the city, increasingly rigid special event procedures and an onerous 2015 LART (city sponsorship) application," the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic Inc. did not apply for a Colorado Springs event permit for 2015, the group said in a release.
The event is Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at Memorial Park.
Karen Palus, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services director for the city, said in a news conference that she was "surprised" to hear the Balloon Classic would not return in 2015. Palus said her staff met with the festival's organizers to plan for this year's event "less than two weeks ago."
"Not having spoken with the promoters, not having them reach out to us to let us even know this information, I can't speculate," Palus said. "I would hope that the organizers would reach out and talk with the city representatives and let's discuss what those concerns or issues might have been."
No information was provided in the organization's release as to where the Balloon Classic would move next year. Calls to Patsy Buchwald, president and CEO of the organization, were not returned.
News of the planned move spread across social media Friday as people voiced their appreciation of the Balloon Classic and displeasure that it was leaving the city.
Elliot Fladen, a former assistant city attorney, said by phone Friday that he postponed a family trip just to go to the event.
"I'm planning on taking my kids down from Denver and coming down for at least one of the days," he said. "This is a cultural event that people look forward to, and that just brings people together from all walks of life."
In 2013, the City Council voted to change the application for how it allocates money annually from the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund, which generates about $4 million. The new application asks organizers to project the economic impact of their events, such as number of spectators, how many of them stay for the day or overnight in local hotels, as well as where visitors are from.
Applications for 2015 events were due by June 30.
The Balloon Classic is the same weekend as the Air Force Academy's Parents Weekend and during the same time as the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. Buchwald asked in June how she could project the numbers from her event.
"Any numbers will be fabricated," she said. "I see no way an event organizer can justify those numbers. We've tried every way possible."
In June 2013, Buchwald said a barricade fee for the event put its future in jeopardy. The more than $6,000 tab was eventually paid by the city. In the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic Inc.'s 2014 LART application to the city, dated July 1, 2013, the organization requested to receive $45,000.
"Without sufficient city sponsorship," the application read, "It will be necessary for the Colorado Balloon Classic to consider proposals outside Colorado Springs and possibly outside the region."
This year, the organization received $12,989 from the city through LART and nearly $35,000 for "in-kind police and fire services" and the waiving of the city parks fee, a spokeswoman for the city wrote in an email.
Councilwoman Jan Martin, who is on the city's LART committee, said she was aware that a permit was not submitted for the 2015 Balloon Classic, but she was still surprised to hear the news Friday.
Martin said money for police and fire support would still be budgeted for next year's Balloon Classic, because it is a city-sponsored "heritage" event, "until we get an official notification from them."
One-third of the LART revenue is used to help fund 12 special events, Martin said. The remaining two-thirds is allocated for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton said losing the balloon festival was another example of the city's "image problem" and that she would work to keep the festival in the area.
"Losing the Balloon Classic is not an option," Littleton said. "There are a variety of different opportunities that we can pursue right here in El Paso County."
Contact Stephen Hobbs: 636-0275