Balloons to return

Fresh off a record-breaking event last October, officials from Carolina BalloonFest have announced that the 2012 festival will be held on Oct. 19-21 at the same venue: the Statesville Regional Airport. And, if balloonfest officials get their wish, Statesville may become the permanent home for the event.

In a report to the City Council at its Dec. 19 meeting, festival coordinator Rob Collier said the 2011 event was exceptional. "We had great weather, more than 300 dedicated volunteers and attendance of more than 30,000 visitors during the three days."

He urged the City Council to conduct a study to determine the requirements for hosting the balloon festival permanently. "The enthusiasm of our visitors was overwhelming, as we had people from over 10 states in attendance," Collier said. "In fact, at one point, we had to close the gates to our parking lots as they were completely full. Issues like that need to be addressed so we don't disappoint future visitors."

The agreement with the city calls for the festival organizers to cover the costs for all municipal services, such as police and sanitation, required to stage the event. Additional proceeds are donated to local charities. This year, $45,000 was donated to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Statesville and Purple Heart Homes.

The balloonfest, initially known as the National Balloon Rally, got its start in 1974 at Aerial Ascensions, a flight instruction and corporate balloon company in North Statesville. It moved to The Balloon Works facility near Love Valley in 1978, where it was an informal, weeklong gathering of hot air balloon enthusiasts and local spectators.

In 1982, Statesville Flying Service, the Balloon Works and the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce combined forces to bring the event to the Statesville Airport. In 1996, the Rally relocated to the Iredell County Fairgrounds in Troutman, where it continued until 2006, when it was moved back to a newly-expanded Statesville Regional Airport. The family-oriented festival features balloon rides, balloon-watching, children's activities, food and wines from North Carolina vineyards.

Also at the Dec. 19 meeting, the council:

Approved modifications in the city's downtown Streetscape rehabilitation program, which will eliminate planned median islands on downtown streets, in favor of a third lane that can be used for loading and also by emergency vehicles.

Was advised that the City Hall rehabilitation should be completed in early January and the first council meeting to be held in the building will be on Feb. 6.