Middletown balloon festival organizers celebrate return of sponsorship, possible record one-day attendance

Owner of Selection.com and Start Skydiving commits to at least 3 years, $50K per year for Ohio Challenge.

One night of pleasant weather that attracted a possible record crowd benefited the Ohio Challenge hot air balloon festival in two ways.

Besides providing the much-needed revenue from the gate it also spurred a major sponsor to return after a two-year absence.

John Hart II, who owns Selection.com and Start Skydiving, said after seeing the large crowds and the enthusiasm July 17 at Smith Park in Middletown, he has decided to put his differences with the city aside and return as the presenting sponsor.

He told the Journal-News that he will sponsor the Ohio Challenge for at least three years at $50,000 per year.

After the 2018 event, Hart expressed his frustrations about contractual issues and then-airport manager Daniel Dickten to city officials and festival organizers adding his company had contributed $250,000 over the previous five years.

Hart recently said the community “truly needs and appreciates” the family-friendly balloon event so he wanted to return as the presenting sponsor.

“This is what community is about,” Hart said.

David Pearce, one of the organizers and treasurer of the balloon event, said he was “extremely thrilled” to hear about Hart’s decision.

“We’re overwhelmed,” he said. “This takes some of the financial pressure off.”

Some of the sponsorship money will help pay for more specialty designed balloons and bring more entertainment and activities to the two-day festival, he said.

After inclement weather grounded the balloons and skydivers on July 16, crowds swarmed to Smith Park on July 17 as the balloons launched, the skydivers performed and fireworks lit up the sky.

Based on the number of cars parked, Pearce estimated the July 17 crowd at 15,000, a one-day record, according to records for the last 10 years. He said 1,900 cars were parked at Middletown Regional Airport and 600 at Smith Park.

He said the crowd “validates the community loves the festival.”

This was the 18th annual festival after last year’s was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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