X Marks the Spot: Balloon Fiesta faces growing challenge

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A growing problem for Balloon Fiesta is only getting worse – landing sites. The more the city grows, the fewer landing sites we have.

“Our ability to continue to attract more than 550 balloons, pilots, and crews from all over the world is really dependent on our ability to host a very safe and enjoyable event,” said Judy Nakamura, president of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. 

Balloon Fiesta officials describe it as an evolving problem.

“I’m an 18-year balloon pilot, and I’ll be flying in our Balloon Fiesta this year as well, and our landing sites have become more of a challenge as vacant lots continue to disappear here in the city,” said Nakamura. 

“The need to preserve landing sites in Albuquerque is critical right now,” said City Councilor Brook Bassan.

So, city officials are once again partnering with Balloon Fiesta and other community members for familiar programs.

“X Marks The Spot, which is why we have this giant X here on display,”  said Bassan. 

They’re calling attention to a program that rewards property owners for helping out.

Lay an X on your property where a balloonist lands and people could win a daily prize from the Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 worth of gift cards, gifts from all the different members of the chamber of commerce,” said Jim Garcia, vice president of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

There’s also an effort to secure new land, like an area west of I-25 from the Water Utility Authority.

With the city continuing to grow, Balloon Fiesta officials say the lack of landing sites is a problem that’s not going away.

“We are the balloon capital of the world, not just during fiesta, but year-round.  So this is an endeavor we need to take on year-round,” said Nakamura.