Balloon festival organizers, city talk through parking issues

Ohio Challenge officials said a meeting with Middletown city officials went well and follow-up conversations are being planned to resolve the balloon festival’s parking dilemma.

David Pearce, treasurer and one of the event’s organizers, was among those who met with Middletown Regional Airport officials Tuesday concerning event parking inside the airport’s fence line.

Pearce previously said the event was in jeopardy after Airport Manager Dan Dickten notified organizers they could not use airport property for parking in the future.

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“I felt the meeting went well and was productive,” Pearce said. “We shared with them why it’s important to park there and that we wanted to work with the city in a collaborative manner.”

City spokeswoman Shelby Quinlivan said the city raised parking concerns this year after severe weather came through the area during the weekend event. Buses used to shuttle people to and from the parking area left ruts along a taxiway drainage ditch, according to Quinlivan. She said the city’s public works department made repairs along the taxiway after the event, but did not say how much those repairs cost the city.

Pearce said he was not surprised by the damage caused by the shuttle buses due to the amount of rainfall that weekend.

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“If we do damage to the park, we repair it,” Pearce said. We want to leave it in the condition we found it in.”

Pearce said the organizers knew Saturday night the mix of heavy rains and buses was causing damage and changed the bus route to avoid that area.

“We didn’t catch it soon enough,” he said.

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“We are excited and relieved the city is committed to work with us to explore options of continuing to use the airport. … We appreciate the opportunity to proactively work with you to identify the best option,” Pearce wrote in an email after Tuesday’s meeting to Dickten and Matt Eisenbraun, assistant city economic development director.

Pearce said event parking has to include: easy in and easy out for vehicles; short shuttle bus routes; and short cycle times for buses.

According to event organizers, the 2017 Ohio Challenge generated an estimated direct economic impact of $2 million to $2.5 million.

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