GONZALES — The two-day Ascension Hot Air Balloon Festival last month at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center turned a $105,000 profit after drawing record crowds of 54,000, preliminary estimates say.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez said Monday that with this year’s estimated take, the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council Inc., the nonprofit behind the festival, will have enough money on hand to weather a down year. He said this year’s profit brings the group’s total funds to about $162,000.
“I think these numbers show what a great success it was, and, hopefully, in the future it will continue to be such a thing just for the children in our community and the surrounding communities to come and enjoy,” he told the Parish Council Finance Committee at the Parish Courthouse in Gonzales.
The profit in the festival’s fourth year at Lamar-Dixon is a turnaround for an event that just two years ago had to have the parish government bail it out to the tune of $100,000. With the influx of cash in late 2013 to cover those expenses, the parish took a firmer hand in the organization, and the festival nonprofit came back with a smaller but better-sponsored event that ended with a positive balance last year.
This year’s event, which parish officials said drew 40,000 people on Sept. 26, apparently has built on that success.
Martinez, who leaves office in early January after eight years, was a key figure along with area legislators in marshaling federal and state grants and state appropriations for the parish to buy Lamar-Dixon in 2009 after voters rejected a property tax for the center in 2008.
Since the purchase, he has sought a marquee event to promote the 247-acre multi-use facility off La. 30 near Gonzales. When balloon festival organizers learned they would no longer be able to use Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge in early 2012, parish officials moved to send the event to Lamar-Dixon.
But, given Lamar-Dixon’s history and growing Ascension’s many pressing needs, financing for the center and later for the festival have been a focus of critics.
The event is still held at the public facility, and some parish employees volunteer to work at it. But setting up the festival so it does not have to draw on the general fund has been an important goal for Martinez and the council.
This year, the festival had revenues of $248,296 and expenses of $143,269. Revenues were 29 percent higher than budgeted while expenses were 3.4 percent lower than budgeted, a spreadsheet says.
The event took in $117,150 in sponsorship dollars, $12,500 less than projected, but drew more than expected in all other revenue areas, including balloon rides, vendor fees and admissions.
Admissions of $88,700 were more than double the $35,000 budgeted. Admission cost $5 per day for anyone older than 12. More than 200 volunteers worked at the festival.
Martinez, who said he plans to volunteer for the festival nonprofit next year, added that separate from the festival group, the parish-owned Lamar-Dixon had a concession booth and earned $20,000 at the festival.
Councilwoman Teri Casso, chairwoman of the Council Finance Committee, thanked Martinez and the council for their persistence in seeing that the festival continued to happen.