Great Texas Balloon Race officials announced Friday that next year’s event will return to its origins – all flights, features and entertainment will be held inside the town of Longview.
In June, race officials staged a modified event with three mornings of competition flights over Longview and two evenings of climbs within the city limits. According to a statement from the Great Texas Balloon Race’s board of directors, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive”, leading organizers to bring the event back inside the city.
Next year’s Great Texas Balloon Race is scheduled for June 17-19 at the Longview Convention Complex, according to the release.
The Great Texas Balloon Race began in 1978 after Dr. Bill Bussey met with Longview Mall manager Frankie Parson and marketing manager Mary Wade LeTourneau. To celebrate the mall’s opening, 20 balloons with celebrities in their baskets made a short flight. The event was packed. Two years later, Bussey staged the first balloon glow in the mall’s south parking lot.
The run continued until it outgrew the mall space, and in 1985 it was moved to the Stroh Brewery complex in Longview. Then, in 1990, it moved again – this time to East Texas Regional Airport.
Board members praised the airport as a venue and said the event had grown by increasing the number of pilots, specially shaped balloons, attractions and entertainment .
“The GTBR Board of Directors will be forever grateful to County Commissioners Gregg, Roy Miller, LeTourneau Aviation and others for hosting GTBR on this property,” said Michelle Ford, President of the Great Texas Balloon Race.
However, balloon council officials said now is the time to make a move.
“The Great Texas Balloon Race has been a favorite event in Longview for many years and has truly become one of the things that makes us unique and special as a community,” said Longview Mayor Andy Mack. “We are delighted that the event organizers have decided to bring more aspects of the event to Longview this coming year.”
“The race started inside the town of Longview and then it went over,” Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said. “But since they’ve changed the format and the ballooning has changed, having it back inside the city makes more sense – number one. And secondly, we have economic development plans for the future on that side of the airport. So at some point the balloon race should move anyway.
He said that although the event is returning to the town of Longview, it remains “a county-wide event”.
“I just commend the board for having a vision for the race,” Stoudt said. “When it started, I don’t think any of us had the idea that it would grow to the extent that it must have the kind of issues we’re facing now. So I’m very happy for the balloon race.
Race officials said maintaining flights over Longview and returning to the event’s full format will mean a better chance for residents “to see balloons dotting the sky above the town, more of exposure for our local sponsors and businesses, and a shorter commute to enjoy the entertainment and vendors.”
Details of concerts and other attractions will be released in the months leading up to next year’s event, according to race officials.
“We hope the community embraces this change as we continue to deliver this world-class ballooning event at Longview,” Ford said.