Balloons launch Aug. 20, 2023, from Simard- Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston in the evening on the last day of the Great Falls Balloon Festival. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

LEWISTON — Organizers of the Great Falls Balloon Festival said the city’s proposal to help salvage a 2024 edition of the display is not enough to close a financial shortfall, lack of vendors and other issues plaguing this year’s planning.

A letter from the festival’s board of directors to city staff Monday said the board voted unanimously to reject the city’s proposal to provide planning, logistics and administrative functions in an attempt to save this summer’s festival.

In the letter, which was obtained by the Sun Journal on Wednesday, the board said it appreciated the city’s efforts in trying to understand the challenges facing organizers, but that the city’s proposal “significantly falls short of understanding the magnitude of those challenges.”

The letter also said board members took issue with information requested by the city, which the board “did not feel was conducive of a working partnership.”

In response, city officials said Wednesday that they have requested a meeting with the festival board multiple times to discuss the city’s proposal, but have been unsuccessful.

“The Balloon Festival holds great importance for our community, which is why we have requested multiple times to meet with them to review the draft (proposal),” said Angelynne Amores, director of marketing and communications. “We are hopeful we can agree to a partnership to preserve this cherished tradition.”


The city’s proposal to the festival board asked for lists of existing contracts with vendors, and contacts for existing volunteers, pilots, copies of previous insurance policies and more.

The city said it would secure permits, promote the event, provide $15,000 in-kind support, and “provide additional monetary support” as the city deemed necessary.

In its response, the board said that even under the city’s proposal, the festival would “still struggle to manage the financial shortfall” caused by a lack of sponsors, fewer nonprofit food vendor commitments, rising food costs and more.

The letter also said the board “would not feel comfortable having the city incur financial debt if costs exceeded current available funds” and “does not want to be in a position of being unable to pay our vendors.”

“We greatly appreciate the response from the city and their offer to assist us this year, but simply cannot, in good conscience and support of our mission, accept the city’s proposal,” the letter states.

According to the board, the festival costs between $100,000 to $150,000 each year, and the board relies on several sponsorships in the form of in-kind donations. In addition, the festival has 11 monetary sponsorship levels.


Last year, the city’s in-kind support for the festival, which includes police, public works and the use of Simard-Payne Memorial Park, totaled $17,605. This year, $13,402 is budgeted, but that figure was approved prior to the city’s offer to partner with the festival.

City administration said last week that if the board accepted the offer, the city would use festival revenue to cover its costs and payments to nonprofits, and remaining revenue would stay with the festival.

When announcing the cancellation last week, board President Tracy Collins said issues ranged from a lack of volunteers to planning difficulties like procuring security and reserving portable toilets.

The cancellation was met with a massive response on social media, and city officials worked quickly to offer support for arguably Lewiston’s largest tourist draw of the year.

Deb Leonard, who is now interim board president, said midday Wednesday that the board had not yet had any additional discussion with the city regarding its proposal.

In the letter, the board said it intends to “restructure” this year, to “ensure the festival comes back stronger next year and is sustainable for many years to come.”

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