The first ever hot air balloon festival in the Greater New Orleans area was held this weekend at Sidney D. Torres Memorial Park in Chalmette. The Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation was a Presenting Sponsor of the festival, which helped boost the local economy, attract visitors, and create another family-friendly community event in St. Bernard Parish. The Meraux Foundation also provided an additional sponsorship to keep the festival ticket price low.
“It’s very exciting that the first balloon festival in the region was held right here in St. Bernard Parish,” said Rita Gue, the president of the Meraux Foundation. “It was a great event for the whole family, and we’re happy to have been a presenting sponsor. The festival helped showcase the very best of St. Bernard, and it is yet another new asset that our community can be proud of.”
The three-day festival featured 15 hot air balloons that lit up the night sky, creating a ‘night glow’. In addition, the festival boasted tethered balloon rides, a carnival, performances by local musicians, displays by local artists, and a wide variety of food from local vendors. Participating hot air balloon pilots came from all around the United States, with one traveling all the way from the United Kingdom.
“The weekend was beyond our expectations. We had great crowds, really good weather, and our opening night was spectacular,” said Mike Zalaznik, the Balloon Festival’s director.
According to Zalaznik, more than 20,000 people from across the region visited St. Bernard Parish over the weekend for the festival.
The Balloon Festival fit well within the Meraux Foundation’s mission to improve the quality of life in St. Bernard, said Gue, who underscored that economic impact and community building are core components of the charitable Foundation’s work.
“The Meraux Foundation’s sponsorship was key for us to be able to act on the idea in the first place. Without the Meraux Foundation, this would not have happened. They were the first to see our vision, and they got it right away,” said Zalaznik. “Their initial sponsorship helped with follow-on sponsorships. When the Meraux Foundation came on board, everyone else took notice.”
Zalaznik said that he plans to make the Balloon Festival an annual event that will grow and improve each year.
“To come into this beautiful park, and see the setting…people just really liked it,” he said. “And we hope to do it for years.”
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