By SARAH MITCHELL
FLYING HIGH: Magnificent hot air balloons will grace the Tulsa-area skyline from June 14-18, emanating from the event site at 41st Street and 129th East Avenue. The huge 20-plus ride carnival, carnival foods, retail vendors and even helicopter rides will transform the lush green space into Tulsa’s largest free-admission event.
The majestic sight of approximately 50 hot air balloons flying over Tulsa is an incredible view that one can only see once a year, and that is at the 2017 Tulsa Balloon Festival, which returns June 14.
The huge 20-plus ride carnival, the traditional and sometimes weird and wonderful carnival foods, retail vendors and even helicopter rides transform a lush green space close to the Highway169 and Broken Arrow Expressway interchange into Tulsa’s largest free-admission event.
The event site at 41st Street and 129th East Avenue was the home of Tulsa’s original hot air balloon festival before it moved to various other locations and ultimately ended up in Claremore. It was only following the cancellation of that event in early 2016 did local promoter Ricky Lyons step in to ensure that balloons continued to pay an annual visit to the Tulsa Metro.
Lyons says, “It was a pretty sad situation. Individuals who had been running the event in Claremore for years got a letter in the mail saying that the event would not be taking place. Various other vendors and suppliers were also going to be out thousands of dollars so we literally got our heads together and put an event together in three months.”
With thousands of people turning out in 2016 despite the inclimate weather, the event was deemed a success, and plans began to make the 22nd annual balloon event in Tulsa even better than the 21st.
“It was a steep learning curve for me, but we pulled it off. We brought the balloons back to Tulsa. We added a huge carnival and various other activities, and the people came out and supported us.”
The Tulsa Balloon Festival does not charge for admission, but there is a small parking charge to cover the cost of renting the land and paying for expenses such as paying police officers and bringing in the balloons. (Bring this copy of Newspaper and receive half off on the parking price.)
While the event is no longer run by a single charity, the event does generate funds and publicity for multiple organizations.
Lyons says, “One of the huge perks of running this event is seeing the smiles on the faces of those who come out to the festival. Then there is the other side of it, when we have a company like Wonder Bread raise money for organizations like Coffee Bunker last year, where people generate dollars by taking pictures of a certain balloon and posting the images on social media. It was a great way to raise awareness for what those guys do, and it also raised some much-needed funds for those who have served our country.”
In 2016, the Tulsa Balloon Festival generated over 1,000 hotel room nights for the city and attracted people from all over the United States, with guests from California, Florida, Montana and even Canada in attendance.
Lyons says he is confident that the event will continue to grow in future years, with the ultimate goal being the construction of a Balloon Festival Park to cement the future of ballooning within the Tulsa community.
Lyons says, “Tulsa is a great city, a great place to do business and a progressive, forward thinking place for people to create new facilities and ultimately generate tax dollars that will boost the local economy. City leaders have shown that they are prepared to invest economic development funds into privately-owned projects from out-of-town developers in recent months, so I really do hope that some of those funds will be allocated to our community-led project to help generate the funds needed with associated developments to build out our facility and ultimately secure the future of ballooning in Tulsa.
“I really think that I just got lucky to end up as the custodian of this great event. But don’t get me wrong, this event belongs to the city and is run for the people of the city. I’m sure that I won’t be the last person that has the honor of running this event, but with a purpose-built facility, this event will continue for many years to come under the leadership of local people who live and work in this city. That to me is important.”
The hours of the Tulsa Balloon Festival are 5 – 11 p.m. on June 14, 15, 16, and from 2 – 11 p.m. on June 17 and 18. For more information, call 918-442-4860.