Tuesday, 29 September 2020 19:54

Organizer of balloon festival at Rockingham Speedway cancels, blames state health officials

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A balloon festival slated for this weekend at Rockingham Speedway has been canceled by the organizer. A balloon festival slated for this weekend at Rockingham Speedway has been canceled by the organizer. Courtesy Easy Events Group

ROCKINGHAM — A balloon festival planned this weekend at the Rockingham Speedway and Entertainment Complex has been canceled.


Organizers with Easy Events Group, on the official Facebook page for the event — there are multiple pages labeled as the North Carolina Balloon Festival, including several listing the site as the N.C. Zoo, which was denied by the Zoo Tuesday afternoon — placed the blame on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The DHHS have declined to approve our event and we have been told that we do not qualify under the 7% rule because the event is not taking place within the area with the spectator seating,” the post reads.

The RO contacted DHHS on Tuesday for confirmation but has not yet received a response.

The post continues criticizing Gov. Roy Cooper for allowing large outdoor venues a 7% capacity starting Friday, while other indoor locations like museums can open at 50%.

“But for some reason, an event with 1,000 people per day on 200 acres of property is too high a risk under the Governor's ‘dimmer switch’ approach,” the post reads. “It isn't a dimmer switch approach. The State Government is making up their response to Covid-19 as they go, and (as a) result picking and choosing who can conduct business and who cannot. This is grossly unfair.”

According to the post, only 50 people are allowed on site and no one can get out of their vehicles.

According to the Balloon Glow website, tickets went on sale Sept. 4 and included “purchase protection,” which entitled guests to receive a refund minus the booking fee. Those who didn’t opt for protection are promised tickets for the next year’s event.

The ticket purchase site shows that car passes for Oct. 2-4 ($20 each with $3.95 booking fee) were sold out, as were tethered balloon experience tickets all three days ($25 each with $3.95 booking fee) and evening balloon flights on Oct. 2 and 3 ($250 each with $39.95 booking fee).

The only tickets left available were morning balloon flights on Oct. 3 and 4.

“For those who added purchase protection to their order, you will receive a refund for the value of the tickets purchased,” the Facebook post reads. “We believe this will be sent to your billing address in the form of a check. If you do not have access to the billing address, please contact us immediately so that we can make sure the payment is sent to where it needs to be sent.”

The post also praises local officials for support, but expresses worries that the state would shut the event down if they opened the gates, adding that the event is being postponed until next year.

This event is not the same as the Carolina Balloon Festival held in Statesville for nearly 50 years. That event was canceled for this year.

This was to be the first major event hosted at the Speedway, although it served as part of Rockingham Festival Park for the inaugural Epicenter Festival — which was moved to Charlotte Motor Speedway — and was the site of a drive-through graduation for Richmond Senior High School in June, since it was purchased in August 2018.

Officials with the Speedway could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to an August 2019 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, organizer Rick Garvie has come under fire in the past for pre-selling tethered balloon rides.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, potential hazards with a balloon launch increase exponentially when surface wind speeds exceed 7 knots, or 8.05 mph.

“A reputable organization will not pre-sell those tethered rides because tethered rides are very weather dependent,” Chris Sabia, owner of Kansas City Aerosports, told the AJC.

According to the newspaper, “Sabia sued Garvie in 2017 after he said the event organizer failed to pay what he owed for balloon rentals for an event in Tulsa, Okla., in 2016. The suit was settled but Sabia said he lost money in the deal.”

According to the U.K. Daily Mail, Garvie was found guilty in 2015 “of buying almost £1,000 of rail tickets from a bank account he knew had insufficient funds.”

There is both a Facebook page, Balloon Glow Complaints, and a website, rickygarvie.com, which highlight issues with the company.

According to rickygarvie.com and the AJC, Garvie goes by several aliases, including Ricky Lyons and Ricky Midflo. Midflo was a business Garvie operated from 2017-2019, the AJC reports.

Garvie was charged with stealing a balloon in Indiana, but that case was dropped after prosecutors determined that the jurisdiction should be with New Mexico, according to the AJC.

A Tulsa, Oklahoma-based television station reported in 2018 that Garvie was the defendant in several lawsuits.

However, there are news reports out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida, of successful events.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 September 2020 20:01