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East County Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018 3 years ago

New balloon festival takes off in Lakewood Ranch

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

The carnies were pulling into the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch on Monday and promoter Ricky Garvie was acting like a traffic cop.

He pointed them in the right direction as he handled his Midflo company's public relations at the same time.

The first Sarasota Balloon Festival opens Thursday, March 8, and a rather calm Garvie was attempting to get the word out. That might have been a little easier if he had named it ... the Lakewood Ranch Balloon Festival. Then again, I've never completely understood public relations.

Any how, Garvie was explaining to me how he had set up hot air balloon competitions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings in order to entice balloonists to participate in the festival itself. A $5,000 prize pool had been formed that pilots could win by hovering over a target on the field and dropping a bean bag on the bull's eye.

It sounds easy, but I've never flown a propane fueled aircraft. Lucky you.

Garvie said it takes exceptional skill to handle the wind and play a form of Corn Hole at the same time. It's certainly captured my attention, since I am one of those chickens who would rather see the action unfold from the ground. Yes, I plan to look up at the Night Glow.

As Garvie continued to touch upon highlights of the festival, one carny had dropped off a ride and was headed off the grounds to find a restaurant. He pulled up and inquired about portable toilets.

Garvie told him about their arrival time and where they would be placed, then the carny launched into a vulgar tirade about why Garvie shouldn't bother to bring portable toilets to the grounds at all.

Squirming, Garvie nodded and sent the man away, then turned to the guy holding the notebook. "I'm sorry about that," he said.

It was obvious he is in the business of handling the unexpected, which will be key this week.

Midflo's eighth balloon festival is the first for Garvie in the Manatee/Sarasota counties area. He has a pretty good idea about what will transpire over the four days of the festival, but nothing is guaranteed.

He had to put up $75,000 to line up 25 balloons (the going rate is $3,000 per balloons in terms of expenses) and then must hope gale force winds don't plague their participation. "It's all about the wind and the lightning," he said.

Garvie also isn't the proverbial party host who worries that no one will come. Quite the opposite actually. He worries about too many people coming. He wants everything to run smoothly. He said his Orlando Balloon Glow in Winter Park Feb. 9-11 drew 14,000 people with just four balloons.

So there you have it, a four-day festival with gates opening at 4 p.m. each day. The festival has no admission fee, but does charge $20 per vehicle to park. Spectators will be able to view the balloons (which include special Tom and Jerry balloons), ride in them and enjoy various attractions (which includes 22 carnival rides) and vendor booths. Tethered rides will reach almost 100 feet.

"For us, it's important knowing the community is getting behind it," Garvie said of the festival. "We already are planning next year. This is an event that costs the taxpayers nothing."

I will be among those checking out the festival, and hoping it becomes another annual attraction for our East County area. And one thing's for certain.

Whatever my conclusion, it will be well-grounded.


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