Parish would take over hot air event
GONZALES — Ascension Parish government may take over the Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship Festival at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center if a plan proposed by Parish President Tommy Martinez is accepted by the Parish Council next month.
Council members meeting as a subcommittee Monday discussed the future of the festival.
Since it moved to Ascension Parish in 2012, the festival has been operated by the nonprofit Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council Inc.
Earlier this month, the nonprofit’s festival chairman, Brad Walker, told the council that the three-day weekend festival in late September lost money when it was anticipated that 60,000 people would attend the 2013 event but only 35,000 people came.
Walker said the event also lost money because corporate sponsorship was down from 2012; admission of $2 per person was too low — the event was free last year — and the number of balloonists, whose lodging and expenses must be paid for, was nearly double from last year.
Walker also said there were too few volunteers to help run the festival.
The nonprofit was left with a debt of $158,369 from the festival.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Teri Casso said Monday that while the parish appreciated the efforts of Walker and his staff to put on the event, “a lot of work needs to be done” to keep it going.
“The fact that 35,000 people came out is a testament that people want this festival,” she said.
Martinez said he believes the festival is a “shining star” that promotes both Lamar-Dixon and the parish as a family event destination.
“No other event in Ascension Parish has brought that many people,” Martinez said of the festival, which moved to Ascension Parish in 2012 after nine years at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
However, Martinez said he sees a bright future for the festival in the hands of parish government.
Martinez suggested the parish pay $100,000 to purchase inventory and the festival’s trademark from Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council, leaving the nonprofit with a festival debt of $58,369. Martinez said the $100,000 would come from Lamar-Dixon’s budget.
In addition, Martinez said he would seek additional sponsors for the festival and would reach out to area civic organizations for volunteer staffing assistance.
“There’s plenty of people who have said they’d be glad to help, but weren’t approached before” he said.
The subcommittee tabled the proposal until Casso could meet with Walker to obtain the necessary documentation on exactly what the parish would be purchasing.
The subcommittee will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Parish Courthouse in Donaldsonville.
Casso said the subcommittee’s recommendations will be presented to the full council at its Dec. 19 meeting in Gonzales.