Wednesday, July 10, 2013

UPDATE: Like the Balloon Classic? Better speak up

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 at 3:10 PM

The city has made amends with the Classic, and per an article in today's Gazette, is going to pony up the extra $6,800 to pay for police and traffic barriers. Buchwald told the Indy via e-mail: "Looking better for all of us."


It's easy to take some things for granted, and after 37 years, it's easy to expect the Colorado Balloon Classic will keep occurring every Labor Day weekend.

But not so fast. The Balloon Classic is a business, and one that needs to make money. It isn't cheap to host the state's largest airshow and roughly 200,000 visitors every year.

And it gets even more difficult when sudden costs come up, as they seem to every five to eight years, says Balloon Classic president Patsy Buchwald. Those costs come courtesy the city of Colorado Springs, which, although it sponsors the event, charges the Balloon Classic thousands annually.

Colorado Balloon Classic
  • Jake Stewart
  • As of 1998, the Colorado Balloon Classic brought in nearly $9.8 million.

This year Buchwald feels pushed to her limit. For one thing, the Colorado Springs Police Department is now mandating closure of Pikes Peak and Union boulevards around Memorial Park during festival hours. Although there have been no incidents in years past, and officers have helped crossing pedestrians with no problems, Buchwald says, she'd be fine with that decision — except that the city's handing the cost of the barricades and other fees to the Balloon Classic.

There are other new related costs, too: One is a $1,000 city communications fee — to alert neighboring residents and businesses of road blockages — even though Buchwald says the city put the onus of communicating with those folks on the Balloon Classic itself.

Money-wise, it breaks down this way: It costs about $32,000 half a million dollars to put on the event (which is free to the public). It costs the city $32,000 in police and fire support, among other fees. The city sponsors $21,000, leaving the Balloon Classic to make up the rest. And in the last two years, additional permits and other fees have increased more than $6,000.

That gives Buchwald and her staff few choices, she says. If the CSPD puts up barricades and sends the Balloon Classic the bill, she says, “This will be our last year, because I don’t know how we would pay for it.”

We asked CSPD for comment, and city senior communications specialist Julie Smith wrote via e-mail:

"The proposed street closures planned for the Labor Day Balloon Classic are to help ensure pedestrian safety of the citizens enjoying this event. There are hundreds of pedestrians trying to cross both Pikes Peak Ave. and Union Blvd during the Balloon Classic's activities. In addition, officers are posted at many intersections to monitor and assist people in safely crossing the streets."

Buchwald wants to keep the business in Colorado Springs — it's home to her as well as to the festival — but the Balloon Classic also organizes airshows outside Colorado, in cities and states that not only cover all the costs of the festival, but pay her organization, too.

"We cannot afford to keep paying the city these dollars, thousands and thousands of dollars to do business here when there are other states that have hired us and paid us to come put on their balloon festivals,” she says.

Colorado Balloon Classic
  • Carolyn Engquist
  • Buchwald plans to have more than 70 balloons at this year's festival.

Buchwald is also concerned that she cannot talk to the people behind these decisions. Both Police Chief Pete Carey and Mayor Steve Bach sent her to economic vitality staffer Donna Nelson, who, although supportive and sympathetic, Buchwald says, really couldn't help.

Given that Mayor Bach has spoken numerous times about making Colorado Springs business-friendly, and bringing in tourism dollars, Buchwald was disappointed that her 37-year-old organization couldn't get any face time. She did, however, meet with eight of the nine City Council members individually for help. They promised their support, but can only do so much under the strong-mayor form of government.

Now Buchwald is turning to citizens to alert them of the new barricades and the Balloon Classic's problems. A community meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, June 6, at the Police Operations Center, 705 S. Nevada Ave. (Open the pdf for a full list of discussion topics and contact information. No RSVP is required.)


“Colorado Springs doesn’t pay us, and we’re not asking them to," Buchwald says, "but they’re charging us so much, particularly if we have to pay for the barricades, we will not be able to financially stay here. It’s just simply a business decision, dollar-wise.

"We’re a small business, and how can we raise $32,000 to give to the City so we can put on an event for the city that’s recognized worldwide? So it just doesn’t make good business sense.

But if the city wants us — and we’re very grateful, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for what the city does do as far as sponsoring us — but all these surprises are very taxing. And we go through this every five to eight years, we have to go back and make sure we’re wanted here.”

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