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Balloon fest a victim of safety concerns, insurance costs

By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

BRANDON -- Oggy the dragon, Tony the Tiger and Miss Daisy the winking flower will not be filling the sky over Brandon in the form of colorful balloons this year.

The reason is all too familiar lately: concerns about safety.

In the wake of Sept. 11, organizers of the 19th annual Brandon Balloon Classic have canceled the April event, citing safety concerns about airspace.

It's not that they fear a terrorist attack, said Tammy Bracewell, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, organizer of the event at the Vandenberg Airport. But because the event is held at an airport, the cost of insurance has risen, said Bracewell.

The 23-member Chamber board did not think that was a good use of the funds. The decision to cancel was made in January, she said.

At that time, there was also concern about whether hot air balloons would be restricted by the Federal Aviation Authority.

Those restrictions have since been lifted and many hot air balloons shows have gone on without incident. But Bracewell said the chamber did not want to take chances.

The 19th Annual Brandon Balloon Classic was originally scheduled for April 26-28. A harbinger of spring, with carnival rides and a sunset balloon glow with some 50 balloons filling the air, attracted 20,000 people last year.

The balloon festival isn't the only local event to be canceled. Earlier this year, officials at MacDill Air Force Base announced that they would not hold their annual two-day Air Fest because of security concerns and so that the military could remain focused on fighting terrorism.

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