Balloonfest brings in visitors and dollars

Another Balloonfest hascome and gone and thePoteau Chamber ofCommerce is still reelingfrom the more than 20,000attendees of this year's festival.According to PoteauChamber President, KarenWages, the first year theChamber has organized theevent was a huge success.They set goals for sponsorshipthat were met and thearm band sales were aboveand beyond all they hadimagined.On Friday, the Chamberwas hectic with pre-salescausing them to open a virtualdrive through to meet thedemand of the more than3,000 armbands they soldand over $7,000 in concerttickets. This large turnouthas already caused theChamber to begin preparationsfor next year's festivalwith the promise of biggerand better things to come.The total increase in revenueacross the area due to theBalloonfest will not be availablefor a couple of months,but the numbers are guessedto be substantial.“We definitely did our jobin creating income for thelocal businesses and the city,”said Wages. “The hotels werefull, the convenience storesstayed busy, the local restaurantswere packed and visitorswere out shopping duringtheir stay.” Not only didthe out of town visitors helpincrease local revenue, thecarnival bought supplies fortheir stands locally, the workersspent money on food andlaundry and several Mud Pitcontestants stayed overnight,purchasing gas, food andsupplies.While the weather playeda part in the disappointingfinal night of the event, rainingout the Saturday nightballoon glow and cancelingthe Kentucky Headhunters,the overall event totaled twodays of festive family fun.“The festival is a weatherpermitting event,” saidWages. “It was unfortunatethat the rain came when itdid. The KentuckyHeadhunters made the callnot to play due to the lightningand the rain. There waslittle we could do about thedecision. It was in theKentucky Headhunters' contractto make the decision tocancel the concert in case ofinclement weather.” Thepossibility of moving theconcert to an indoor venuedue to the outbreak of dangerousweather was unrealisticaccording to Wages. “Ittook two days to set up thestage and to have the soundequipment readied. Therewas no possible way tochange venues and have aconcert in 45 minutes. Ifthere would have been anyalternative to canceling theconcert, we would have doneso.”In a statement released bythe Kentucky Headhunterson Tuesday, they voiced theirregret to the people of Poteauand the many fans who traveledto see them live in concert.“All day long it was blueskys and great weather. Thenten minutes before we go comes a hurricane,”said Richard Young. “Thiswas the first show in 21 yearsthe Kentucky Headhuntersplayed that was completelyflooded out. I know you guyshadn’t had rain since April. 1 just wish it would have waiteda couple more hours. When we got home yesterday we hadto unpack all our equipment in storage to dry. We we’re verydisappointed we didn’t get to play. It was our last officialshow of the year.”The chamber, who carried total event insurance that covereda rain-out, is waiting on the official answer from theinsurance company to determine if they are eligible for thereimbursement of the $15,000 cost of the KentuckyHeadhunters.Many people were disappointed by the missing Saturdaynight glow balloons but the Federal Aviation Administrationrepresentatives that were present for the two-day eventordered the balloons out of the sky due to extreme lightningand high winds.“The FAA regulate the balloons,” said Wages. “They aredependent on the wind entirely, there are no controls. Theyhave to file flight plans and follow all FAA regulations andwhen they were told to shut down, they had no choice.”The Chamber would like to remind those planning toattend next year's Balloonfest that it is very important to parkin designated parking.“Several people parked along the highway this year,” saidWages. “They were asked to move because of the danger toother motorists. Please do not park along the highway or inthe ditches. The safety of everyone attending the event alongwith passerbys is of utmost importance. All entrances andexits need to be clear of vehicles so traffic merging back ontothe highway can clearly see all oncoming traffic to prevent anaccident.”The Chamber is already beginning the organization of nextyear's event in preparation of an even larger attendance. Theyare already arranging for more tethered balloon rides, reviewingcarnival contracts and searching for more bigger andbetter attractions.The winners of the various competitions that occurred duringthe 2011 Balloonfest will be featured by PDN later thisweek.