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Howard Freeman, executive producer of the NJ Lottery Festival of Ballooning

How do you determine your outdoor event’s capacity when your venue can support a seemingly unlimited number of people? 

That’s the question Howard Freeman, executive producer of the New Jersey Lottery Festival of Ballooning, said he lacks direction on from the Murphy administration as his July 23 event, which annually draws 175,000 people at the 744-acre Solberg Airport in Hunterdon County, approaches. 

“We only use probably less than half of that acreage currently and have, obviously, a very easy opportunity to socially distance people out there,” he said during a March 18 New Jersey Business Coalition virtual town hall. “We are going to work with a local hospital group … for CSP (COVID Safety Protocols), which will enable us to keep America safe both for our patrons and our guests. 

My question is, with a 744-acre property and 175,000 people that we’ve put there before and we still had plenty of room during the five sessions of the festival, who is to say what the capacity of an unlimited, outdoor, general admission event is?” 

The festival, which Freeman said has an economic impact of over $50 million, provides over 2,500 jobs for the weekend and has raised over $3 million for local nonprofits, is still on despite that lack of guidance.  

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced certain capacity limits for certain outdoor and indoor activities, but there was no added clarity provided on outdoor festival-type events. Freeman said he hopes to have the clarity soon. 

“We are full-speed ahead,” he said. “We just can’t afford to have something happen like [what] happened, unfortunately, with the restaurant industry last year over July Fourth when all those restauranteurs … probably ordered all kinds of perishable food and beverages and then were unable [to sell them] when at the last minute it was stopped.” 

About 100 people, including state lawmakers, took part in the New Jersey Business Coalition’s third virtual town hall on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted schools and businesses. To see Freeman’s full presentation, click here.