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Organizers overestimated balloon figures

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GONZALES - Organizers of the Louisiana Balloon Championship Festival in Ascension Parish said they lost over $150,000 after a miscalculation in attendance.

The organizers of the Ascension Parish-sponsored event said they overestimated attendance from 2012, the first year of the festival. That led them to charge two dollars for a ticket, which today volunteer chairman Brad Walker said was too low.

"If I would've know there was going to be 30,000, you know, from last year, then we would've done a $5 entry. That would've given us the money that we needed," he said.

Organizers said the miscount had to do with how many cars showed up. They took the numbers of vehicles which came out to the 2012 festival and assumed an average of three people per car attended, which gave them an estimate of 60,000 attendees. Today organizers said they likely had closer to 30,000 or 35,000, which was likely lower than the 2013 turnout.

With $158,369 in expenses still unpaid by the event's organizing nonprofit organization, the Parish Council Finance Committee voted Thursday to form a subcommittee to evaluate what went wrong. The panel will discuss what to do about the pending bills and how to proceed with the event.

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez says the bills may fall onto taxpayers, who should support the festival more.

"I think the taxpayers are probably going to give them a loan, and probably next year we're going to work out something where the parish takes it over and then we repay the funds, that we take it out of from the gate," he said.

"That's kind of scary cause you got to figure out where are they going to cut back," said one Ascension resident. "Who are they going to take the money from that they would normally support in order to make up the difference."

Walker and others we spoke with today still feel the balloon festival is good for the parish.

"I know that the taxpayers reap the benefits of it though. One of the things they don't talk about is how much sales tax was generated by this balloon festival... How much sales tax from hotels that were full during this event," said Walker.

This was the second year the parish-owned Lamar-Dixon center hosted the event after the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge stopped hosting a balloon festival because of safety concerns.


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