Conner Prairie seeks funding to keep balloon ride flying

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By the end of Conner Prairie’s 2014 season, about 100,000 people will have taken to the skies in its tethered helium balloon—a high-flying attraction that soared to landmark status soon after it debuted five years ago.

Leaders at the Fishers interactive history park nevertheless “thought long and hard” about replacing the balloon, which is approaching the end of its useful life, CEO Ellen Rosenthal told Town Council this week.

They ultimately determined its iconic value outweighed the $500,000 cost.

So with a new balloon “envelope” under construction in Paris (and a new balloon sponsor under wraps until next season), Rosenthal asked the council to consider increasing its annual support for the not-for-profit museum from $50,000 to $100,000.

“It’s an integral part of the community,” she said of the museum.

Conner Prairie reported record attendance of 340,000 last year and ranks among the country’s top 5 most-visited outdoor history museums, Rosenthal said. Nearly 80 percent of guests came from outside Fishers, and more than half from outside Hamilton County.

But the not-for-profit museum subsidizes 60 percent of the cost of every visit, she said.

About a third of its $10 million budget comes from ticket sales, concessions and other “earned” revenue, Rosenthal told the council. Another third comes from its endowment, and the remainder from grants and donations.

Council members seemed receptive to her pitch for more funding, but they didn’t make any promises. Such requests will be considered during the budget cycle that begins this fall, said council President John Weingardt.

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