Balloon rides set for liftoff in May

Highly unusual: Riders will float 450 feet above the city.

January 12, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore thought this project was a real gas.

Yesterday, the Design Advisory Panel, which reviews all city developments, took a final look at a 75-foot-tall helium balloon and gave its approval. It is expected to begin providing 15-minute rides in mid-May to thrill-seekers from a courtyard next to Port Discovery children's museum.

Sky High of Maryland LLC pitched the balloon about a year ago but delayed the project to work out safety issues and its arrangement with the museum, which will handle ticket sales for the rides, said Lee Raskin, who represented the company.

"We thought Baltimore needed an attraction," Raskin said.

Raskin and Port Discovery President Kathy Southern said they believe that the balloon could increase ridership on the Baltimore Metro as well as visitation at the museum. The balloon will be tethered to the ground above the Market Place station at the southwest corner of Baltimore and President streets.

The balloon will hold up to 30 people at a time and will feature logos for the city and Port Discovery. It will also sport a banner for e-Sylvan, a division of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., which Sky High announced would be a corporate sponsor.

Riders will be charged for tickets that are likely to cost about the same as Port Discovery tickets - about $10 for adults and $7.50 for children - and combination tickets will be sold.

The museum also plans to tie in educational exhibits to the balloon.

For their money, the riders will get a spot aboard a gondola that will rise about 450 feet - above the city skyline - and be pulled back to earth by a giant wench that will be visible to the public.

The balloon will be crafted by Swedish balloon adventurer Per Lindstrand, who has built others in cities such as Barcelona, Spain. A balloon in Las Vegas was taken down for lack of business, Raskin said.

Raskin said there would be a security force to address safety concerns and possible vandalism. He also said the company is discussing ways to alert drivers on the Jones Falls Expressway so the giant balloon will not distract them.

The rides will likely be offered the year round, at least on weekends. If the Cordish Co.'s Power Plant Live project filled with night-time entertainment is successful, Southern said, the balloon might be operated in the evenings as well as in the daytime. It would be illuminated.

"It's going to be extremely romantic," she said.

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