GALVESTON — Mardi Gras revelers will have to pay $17 to get onto The Strand this year, continuing the policy that has been in effect since the event was taken over by a private business in 2011.

The price, according to event organizers, is the cost of putting on Galveston’s largest event. But there are some who say the event should be free to access.

Ticket prices were the same in 2012, said Mike Dean, the owner of Yaga’s Entertainment, the promoter that has been in charge of Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebrations for three years. And he’s standing by charging for the event, which attracted up to 250,000 to the island in recent years.

“A free Mardi Gras is a situation that does not do good for anybody,” Dean said.

Galveston’s Mardi Gras begins Feb. 1 and ends on Feb. 13. Admittance to the Uptown Entertainment District — which includes The Strand and Mechanic Street between 20th and 25th streets — will be limited to ticket buyers on both Fridays and Saturdays during Mardi Gras.

Galveston entered into a three-year promoter agreement with Yaga’s Entertainment beginning in 2011. The agreement also has a two-year option. Yaga’s will pay the city $100,000 this year for the event fee. In exchange for the lump sum, the city agreed not to charge Yaga’s any fees “of any kind whatsoever” in relation to Mardi Gras events.

The city last year decided to extend its agreement with Yaga’s for two more years until 2015, with each year bringing in an additional $100,000 from event fees.

“We get $100,000 whether it’s rain or snow or sunshine,” Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Maxwell said Mardi Gras is the only special event the city subsidizes.

Events on The Strand were free to the public between 2008 and 2010, but before that the city did charge an entrance fee.

Dean said that, along with funding the entertainment provided by Mardi Gras, selling tickets acts as a sort of security measure against troublemakers who visit during the island’s biggest party.

But at least one Strand business owner said the return the Mardi Gras tickets has hurt her business and is trying to make a stand over it.

Diane Cowart is the owner of Crow’s Southwest Cantina, a bar at the far west end of The Strand. Cowart has been a vocal critic of charging for the event and is circulating a petition objecting to the “ongoing obstruction of business commerce” caused by charging an entrance fee.

An online version of the petition, which has been online for about a week, has 17 signatures.

“It eliminates the downtown merchants from making a living,” Cowart said. “It’s a free venue up on the seawall, and we would like it to be the same down here on The Strand area.”

There are six parades scheduled on the seawall this year. Another 18 parades are scheduled to go on downtown, along with dozens of concerts and other events.

Cowart said the ticket prices adversely affect her business during the two weekends of Mardi Gras. She also said the gates make it difficult for Strand business employees and hired musical acts to get to where they need to be.

Cowart did not answer a question about how much business she lost during Mardi Gras, saying instead she preferred to “focus on 2013.” She said she was meeting with an attorney to consider legal action against the city’s contract.

State laws holds that the city has the “right of control and use” of all public streets, an authority that has been recognized by the courts as far back as 1858.

Dean said there will “always be naysayers” about a large event like Mardi Gras.

“I think we do a pretty good shot at keeping a lot of people involved,” Dean said.

He said downtown businesses are given complimentary tickets so their employees and musical acts don’t need to pay.

Dean said there should be no worries about Mardi Gras coinciding with Super Bowl Sunday, which is Feb. 3. Admission to the downtown will be free that day, and Yaga’s street vendors will shut down at 6 p.m., about half an hour after kickoff.

Mardi Gras returned to Galveston in earnest in 1985, thanks to businessman George Mitchell. The Park Board took over the event in 1987, and the city was involved in the event’s management up until Yaga’s was given the reins. During that time, tickets prices ranged from $5 to $20, depending on the day of the week.

In 2006, the city began allowing free access to downtown during Mardi Gras’ second weekend, following years of declining revenue. In 2008, both weekends became free, but the entertainment district and city-paid vendors were eliminated.

In 2010, the city put out a request for proposals for a promoter, which Dean eventually won.

Having Yaga’s organize Mardi Gras while still bringing in revenue from event fees — and from secondary revenue like hotel and sales taxes — makes sense in the eyes of city leaders.

“It’s a good event, but it’s an expensive event,” Maxwell said. “Anything that can be done to defray the cost of the event is good for Galveston.”

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

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(5) comments

Ellen Morrison


" “We get $100,000 whether it’s rain or snow or sunshine,” Assistant City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Maxwell said Mardi Gras is the only special event the city subsidizes.

...Having Yaga’s organize Mardi Gras while still bringing in revenue from event fees — and from secondary revenue like hotel and sales taxes — makes sense in the eyes of city leaders.

“It’s a good event, but it’s an expensive event,” Maxwell said. “Anything that can be done to defray the cost of the event is good for Galveston.” "

How much does Galveston spend subsidizing this "expensive event" vs. the $100,000?

Lonestar Rally is being asked for an accounting sheet. I think that the COG should also see the data for Mardi Gras. Many people believe that Mike Dean is making money hand over fist on the event at the expense of residents and businesses downtown. Personally, I pretty much stopped going downtown during Mardi Gras - it is too much of a hassle, takes too long and isn't any fun... the money is being made off of tourists and the atmosphere reflects that.

69 Chevy

Attendance has been down since this deal was signed. I had about 20 people at my house last year for the Momus parade, ages 25-60, and not one was willing to pay a fee to walk down the Strand. I had been attending Mardi every year since it was brought back up until 2 years ago. This year when I threw out the idea for a Mardi Gras party it was suggested we go to Kemah. Notice all the billboards Tillman has along the freeway? Keep it up Galveston![sad]

Allen Flores

Actually, the promoter paid the city just $15,000 for year 2010 and the city expenses were over $350,000. The city realized that it's costs are over $350,000 so they upped the fee to $100,000. That's still a bad deal. This is such a bad deal for the citizens. It makes no sense for two couples to pay $272 for 4 days of Mardi Gras in Galveston when they can go to a free Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The city should end the gate fees and let people catch free beads again. The downtown will be a ghost town as long as they charge people. The city could make so much more through sales taxes from downtown if it were free. The Lone Star Bike Rally is free and the city makes money and the downtown businesses make money. Mardi Gras is a bad deal.

Allen Flores

It's a shame that the businesses and residents are blocked off and the citizens can't support local businesses for two weekends. It's illegal for the City to declare imminent domain on the Strand property owners. If the Seawall area around the Pleasure Pier, Fish Tales, Poop Deck, and Spot were gated during Mardi Gras and people were charged $17, then two things would happen immediately. The crowds would end and the City would be sued for writing an illegal contract that violated their rights to make money.

love my island

Mardi Gras has declined since Mike Dean took it over. What is the entertainment this year. I can tell you with our looking it up. It a group most people ever heard of-I can promise you that. The contract with Yaga's needs to end, before he completely runs it into the ground.

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