Galveston’s Mardi Gras organizers are anticipating large crowds, and hoping for clear weather, as this year’s events get underway tonight.
Mardi Gras this year will feature 22 parades between tonight and Feb. 13, and concerts headlined by 1990s rock band Everclear and country music artist Kevin Fowler, among other acts.
City and tourism officials expect as many as 300,000 people will travel to the island during the two-weekend celebration — which is one of the most popular annual Galveston events.
Ticket sales for downtown entertainment events were ahead of past years, said Mike Dean, president of Yaga’s Entertainment, which stages many of the Mardi Gras events.
“We’re just praying for good weather,” Dean said Thursday afternoon while making last-minute preparations. “Everything is going according to plan so far.”
Last year, at least 65,000 people paid to attend downtown events.
Yaga’s Entertainment has managed official Mardi Gras events, including parades and the paid-entry downtown entertainment area, for eight years. The company plays a flat $100,000 fee to the city every year, and also pays a portion of ticket sales back to the city. It then collects revenues from tickets sales and concession vendors.
Historically, the city’s direct costs outpace the direct revenue it receives from promoters. Some officials argue that secondary benefits, such as sales and hotel tax collections, make up the difference in the cost.
Hotel occupancy trends in the first quarter of the fiscal year also might be pointing to a particularly strong Mardi Gras attendance, said Kelly de Schaun, the executive director of the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees.
“Right now, we’re trending ahead of last year,” she said. “Hotel occupancy tax collections are 10 percent above what they were last year.”
Galveston’s most recent large festival, Dickens on The Strand in December, also drew larger-than-average crowds, she said. That could be an indicator Mardi Gras will be bigger, too, she said.
De Schaun did not expect that Mardi Gras would suffer from people avoiding the event or the island because of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, which caused heavy flooding in late August. While the hurricane mostly spared Galveston from damage, it caused widespread and costly flooding in Houston, the island’s largest single tourism market.
Annually, nearly 49 percent of visitors to Galveston come from Houston, according to the park board.
Rain is expected on the island at times over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service in League City.
The highest chance for rain is 50 percent on Saturday, weather service forecasters said. While the rain could be heavy at times, it won’t persist for long periods, forecasters said. The highest chance for rain would be between noon and 6 p.m. Saturday.
Skies will remain cloudy all weekend, but temperatures could rise to near 70 degrees Sunday, according to the weather service.
As long as the rains didn’t produce a “gully washer,” the crowds should come, Dean said.
Rainy and overcast weather is typical for Galveston in early February. In recent years, Mardi Gras weekends have been mostly dry and sunny. They also have been held later in the spring. This year’s Mardi Gras is the earliest since 2013, when Easter Sunday fell on March 31.
Mardi Gras celebrates the coming of the Lenten season, and its dates in Galveston change based on when Easter falls. (In other parts of the country, Mardi Gras festival season begins as early as Epiphany on Jan. 6).
For the first weekend of Mardi Gras, downtown streets between 21st and 26th streets, and Harborside Drive and Mechanic Street will be closed to traffic all day today and until late Sunday evening.
Vehicle access to Seawall Boulevard will be closed between 23rd and 61st streets beginning 10:30 a.m. Saturday to allow parades to travel the road.
Traffic on Seawall Boulevard will be diverted between 23rd and 59th streets beginning 10 a.m. Saturday. Seawall Boulevard traffic lanes reopen 11 p.m. Saturday.
All lanes of 25th Street will be closed at 10 a.m. Saturday and reopen at 11 p.m.
Galveston’s Island Express bus service will not operate Saturday.
The Galveston Trolley will not operate on its normal route on Saturday because of road closures on Seawall Boulevard.
The downtown trolley will drop passengers off outside the gated Mardi Gras event area today and Sunday. Trolley service might also be canceled or adjusted during high-traffic periods, city officials said.