2014 Ascension Balloon Festival will require no public funds

A positive response from area businesses and a $20,000 donation from a Baton Rouge casino means this year’s Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival organizers won’t have to depend on public funds.

The festival, organized by the nonprofit Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council Inc., announced Monday a $20,000 sponsorship had been secured from L’Auberge Casino Hotel.

Martin McConnell, chairman of the event, said this year’s festival will be more than “just a balloon festival.”

A barbecue contest featuring “anyone who wears a badge,” carnival rides, classic car show, blues music and the Play Dirty Adventure Trail Run have been added to the festival lineup. An expanded children’s village will include a petting zoo and face-painting.

“It’s a fun outing for the family and ... a way to use this great facility,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said.

McConnell and Martinez made the sponsorship announcement at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, the location of the festival, which is set for Sept. 26-27. The parish owns the expo center.

The balloon festival came to Ascension Parish three years ago after the long-running balloon festival in Baton Rouge ended.

Last year’s festival ended with a more than $140,000 deficit, which had to be paid by the Ascension Parish Council.

Martinez said that some vendors from last year’s festival “accepted a little bit less” than owed and some are returning to this year’s event.

“But, no public money will be used this time,” he said.

McConnell said the budget for this year’s event is $128,000 and just less $120,000 in sponsorship money has been secured.

A $2 admission will be charged, with children 12 and younger getting in for free, McConnell said. Festivalgoers will have to pay additional fees for tethered rides, carnival rides, food and games.

McConnell, who also is sales and marketing manger for Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, said 30 balloons are expected for the “friendly competition” but no national titles will be on the line.

“We decided to make this a balloon festival with an emphasis on festival,” McConnell said.

Two specially shaped balloons have registered for the event: the Pepe LePew and Purple People Eater.

The musical lineup includes Don Berry, Jonathon “Boogie” Long, the Blues Revolution, Elvin Killerbee and his band, Ryan Patterson and the Red Headed Stepchild and Chris Leblanc.

Martinez said a volunteer committee has been meeting every week since January to organize the festival.

For years, Martinez has promoted the idea of having an annual festival on the Lamar-Dixon grounds. A Festival of Festivals took place in 2010, but that festival never returned for a second year.

Martinez said more than 30,000 people attended each of the two previous festivals.

“It’s all for the children and we hope to attract people from all over,” he said. “We’ll have lots of things for families to do and the balloons will be flying around the parish. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”

McConnell said sponsorships are still available.

For information, visit ascensionballooning.com.