By Bret H. McCormick
River Parishes bureau
July 19, 2012
GONZALES — The Louisiana Ballooning Foundation has canceled its 2012 Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship and Festival that was scheduled for the first weekend in August in East Baton Rouge Parish.
However, officials in neighboring Ascension Parish say they plan to hold a festival and balloon race event of their own in October — albeit one that isn’t affiliated with the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation.
Linda Wunstel, the president of the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation’s board of directors, said the event was canceled in East Baton Rouge Parish because of funding issues.
“The funding right now just isn’t there,” Wunstel said.
Charlotte Guedry, spokeswoman for the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council, said the hot-air balloon event will still take place, just on a different date and at a different venue.
The Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council had agreed earlier this year to partner with the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation to put on a balloon festival in Gonzales that would be held in conjunction with the balloon races in Baton Rouge.
Guedry said Monday she was combating a “rumor” that the balloon festival has been canceled. She said it has been postponed until Oct. 5-6, with all events, including the balloon races, being held in Gonzales.
Wunstel, however, said the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council simply was a sponsor for the balloon races and couldn’t move the event.
“This is not a postponement,” said Wunstel, who is director of marketing for The Advocate.
She said that if the Ascension group “choose(s) to do something now down in Gonzales,” it would not be the Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship because that event has been canceled and will not be held in 2012.
“They were a sponsor of our event,” Wunstel said. “We have totally canceled the event of our own.”
The balloon festival has been held for the past nine years at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge but the Louisiana Ballooning Foundation lost use of that site this year. That led to the agreement with the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council.
The original plan called for the hot-air balloon races to take off from Baton Rouge, while the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center would be the home of a two-day festival from 3 to 10 p.m. combining balloons, entertainment, music, food and fun.
Ascension Parish officials originally had wanted to hold the festival in October because of concerns about the heat and potential rain in August, and now will revert back to that plan, Guedry said.
The festival will be free to the public, although visitors have the option to purchase Balloon Club tickets for $100. The tickets include entry into a special air-conditioned tent stocked with water and healthful snacks.
Guedry said the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council has received $150,000 in state and parish funding, which is “more than enough” to put on the festival. She also said she had contacted all of the event’s sponsors on Monday, “and everybody is still on board.”
Guedry said she believes the festival is poised to grow from its average of 45,000 to 50,000 visitors over the past decade.
“We’re not worried about anything,” she said. “In fact, we’re even more excited than we were before.”