ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After more than two decades leading the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the executive director for New Mexico’s marquee event is stepping down. In a news release Tuesday, the AIBF announced the retirement of Paul Smith, who’s spent 26 years in the organization’s top spot.

Smith is slated to retire on January 30, 2023. Starting as a pilot during the event in 1982, Smith eventually worked his way into providing legal counsel to the organization. After becoming the executive director in 1997, Smith is credited with helping bring a number of improvements to the event. Smith oversaw the addition of Fiesta’s grass field and a slew of extra entertainment offerings, like the 2022 drone show. Balloon Fiesta celebrated its 50th event in October 2022.

Smith will hand the executive director role over to a familiar face within the organization. Sam Parks, AIBF’s current Director of Operations will take over the top leadership position in February. Prior to his operations role, Parks was the Fiesta’s Balloonmeister from 2013 to 2018.

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“I am excited about taking on this new role within a great organization,” Parks said in a news release. “After celebrating AIBF’s golden anniversary this past October, I look forward to launching the next 50 years of the World’s Premier Balloon Event this year,” said Parks.”

AIBF also announced a new president of the event’s volunteer Board of Directors. Former Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Honorable Judith “Judy” Nakamura will lead the board in 2023. Nakamura replaces Al Tetreault at the board’s leader.

“I look forward to continuing the work of the Board and staff in ensuring Balloon Fiesta remains one of New Mexico’s economically and culturally defining events,” Nakamura said in a news release. Nakamura has been on the Balloon Fiesta board since 2011.

Fiesta is also announcing a few other leadership changes. Jennifer Garcia has been named the Fiesta’s new event director. Taylor Caldwell has been name the event’s pilot coordinator. For more on the event’s leadership changes, visit this blog post on Fiesta’s website.