GC fills up with hot air

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Multi-colored balloons taller than a house will rise into the air over Grove City as Balloons Off Broadway takes flight on July 28 at Park Street Intermediate School in the heart of the city from 6 to 9:30 p.m.

Watch as flight crews ready their lighter-than-air craft, weather permitting, at 6 p.m. and then float off into the distance. Silhouetted against the evening sky, the balloons return an hour later for a descending "glow," as pilots fire up propane burners. Visitors will have the opportunity to take up-close photographs of the balloons and are encouraged to question participants about their hobby.

"We’re expecting 11 or 12 hot air balloons. The Central Ohio Balloon Club is working on that," said Parks and Recreation Director Kim Conrad, who reported the school grounds are large enough to accommodate up to a dozen balloons. "You can get right under the balloons. It’s really cool to be able to do that. Other than when they are filling the balloons – for safety reasons – we don’t hold people back because we are a smaller event.

"The uniqueness of this is to get people involved. You don’t have to stand behind a line and just watch. You can walk right up between the balloons."

In addition to the plethora of balloons, live entertainment is featured on a main stage with British Invasion playing an array of Beatles tunes from 6:30 p.m. until the conclusion of Balloons Off Broadway. Children are invited to participate in a number of activities sponsored by Grove City Parks and Recreation, including inflatable jump houses and games.

"This year we also have a special toddler area with smaller size games," added Conrad.

"Older kids can enjoy a variety of lawn games such as jump rope, hula hoop, and bouncing balls. We’re also working with the Central Ohio Radio Control Society to demonstrate radio control planes. Everything is free except for face painting, which is $1 and a TWIG 184 fundraiser for Children’s Hospital."

Parking is available in the Park Street lot off Kingston, on streets surrounding the school, at the Grove City Library, and behind city hall. Conrad said the best option is to park in one of the downtown public lots and walk to the site.

"The event has grown in popularity every year," remarked Jim Hale, Grove City Visitors and Convention Bureau, "and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department does a phenomenal job of organizing events like this. It’s a great opportunity for both amateur and professional photographers to get some wonderful shots and it gives residents and visitors a chance to get up close. In some cases, the pilots even let people help out."

Following the discontinuation of the Big Bear Balloon Fest at Beulah Park, Mayor Cheryl Grossman vowed balloons would continue to grace the summer air in Grove City. Without skipping a beat, Grove City organized and hosted its own hot air balloon festival in 2004, due in large part to the cooperation of Central Ohio Balloon Club and its President Stew Gibboney.

Balloons Off Broadway launched three years ago with 11 balloonists providing a colorful backdrop at the Park Street school. As a true interactive event, Balloons Off Broadway offered visitors an intimate look at the art of hot air ballooning and when the balloons were staged for flight, visitors were able to enjoy a close-up view of what it takes to get a balloon in the air.

Despite the event’s growth in attendance, Grossman said, "Unlike other events, we’re delighted with the size and the intimacy of Balloons Off Broadway. It’s very much a part of our hometown community and we’re fortunate to have someone like Stew Gibboney."

For more information, call Grove City Parks and Recreation at 277-3050 or contact the Visitors and Convention Bureau online at www.visitgrovecityoh.com.

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