Planning is underway for the 2019 Ohio Challenge hot air balloon festival for July 19-20. Officials say they are hoping that Mother Nature will be a little more kinder this year after getting rained out in 2018. FILE PHOTO

Middletown’s major hot air balloon event working to rebound from losing sponsor and last year’s washout

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Dave Pearce, event organizer and treasurer for the Ohio Challenge hot air balloon competition, said the committee is continuing to recruit sponsors, vendors and balloon pilots for the July 19-20 event at Smith Park.

Pearce and the committee is hoping for some better weather this year after torrential rains washed out last year’s event. He said the committee will be meeting on Tuesday to continue its organization efforts.

MORE: Middletown OKs grant, airport parking for major balloon event

“We’re targeting 20 to 25 balloonists to compete this year,” he said.

The event is also overcoming the loss of Selection.com as the presenting sponsor after a dispute last year between the city of Middletown and Start Skydiving, a sister company of Selection.com, over a number of contractual issues at the Middletown Regional Airport.

The city was also increasing its awareness and enforcing FAA regulations about parking on the airfield for the event. The parking issue and the loss of its key sponsor prompted the Ohio Challenge and city officials to work through those obstacles.

“We’re in good shape,” Pearce said. “It’s going to happen and we’ll be able to park at the airport.”

MORE: Company withdraws Ohio Challenge sponsorship due to airport dispute

Last November, Middletown City Council pledged up to $25,000 from its bed tax collections to assist the Ohio Challenge organizing committee to recoup some of the losses from the departure of the presenting sponsor.

Selection.com is one of more than 30 sponsors that provides cash or in-kind services to the event, according to Pearce. Selection.com also funded the event’s fireworks show, he said.

John Hart II said his company “has been the key sponsor of the Ohio Challenge for the past five years, contributing more than $250,000 toward its success,” according to an email he sent Aug. 8, 2018 to City Council members and other officials that was obtained by the Journal-News.

MORE: Weather again delays major Middletown hot air balloon event

According to event organizers, the 2017 Ohio Challenge generated an estimated direct economic impact of $2 million to $2.5 million. Organizers said the event attracts an average of 50,000 to 55,000 people, with about 50 percent of the visitors are from Butler and Warren counties. About 94 percent of the visitors are from Ohio.

The Ohio Challenge is a source of income for the city’s non-profit organizations that generates between $8,000 and $12,000 for them, according to Pearce, who added that the event also provides a “significant positive image for Middletown.”

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