When the city’s first conventions and visitors’ bureau administrator arrived in January 2017, he laid out a plan under which Galveston County’s biggest community would court more sports tourism and pursue people headed for Galveston and Houston, but looking for a cheaper place to stay.
About two years later, some aspects of the plan are well underway, while much remains to be done on others, said Bryan Roller, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau administrator.
“When I first started, you get to building the foundation a little bit,” Roller said. “But then I took over as the director of communication for 10 months, until someone came on board. Now it’s freed me up to put more things in place.”
The things in place so far are a succession of tournaments and events that are planned for League City this month, Roller said.
“We are making strides,” he said. “We hosted the first of four sporting events, the Thornton Gymnastics Invitational that had 200 competitors and an estimated 700 parents come in for the weekend. That event went really well.”
Sports tourism is any travel where people are either observing or participating in sporting events and, in recent years, has become a target for cities across the state and country, including Galveston and League City.
That initial gymnastics competition, combined with a second, bigger one in a few weeks, are some early evidence that marketing has gone well, Roller said.
“That will have quite a few more competitors,” Roller said.
Then, in April, the city will host a basketball tournament at Clear Creek Independent School District’s facilities and a football game in June, Roller said.
But sports aren’t the only target market city officials are courting, Roller said.
“We have also put together a plan to court the cruise market,” Roller said. “That’s really expanding for the city of Galveston and Galveston County. A lot of people are coming in early and choosing to stay in League City and the northern parts of the county.
“We are working to get more businesses up here that cater to that.”
So far, it’s been somewhat complicated tracking how successful the city has been in that venture because officials can’t track hotel occupancy rates on a month-to-month basis, Roller said.
“Right now, we don’t qualify to pull a report each month because one hotel in town has more than 50 percent of the total rooms for the night. It throws off our reports.”
But more hotels are set to open in coming months and then the city will be able to forecast and project whether people are responding to the work, Roller said.
Roller hopes one day to have a system in place that works similarly to Galveston’s visitors bureau, he said.
“I see us being one or two years away from a full-fledged, working CVB that touches on all the areas we need to,” Roller said. “That’s a rough estimate.”
When the sun finally comes back out and sunny spring arrives on Galveston Island, some dog owners might seek out a restaurant patio, where they can sit and eat with their loyal companion and enjoy the nice weather.
But while the sight of a dog on a patio isn’t uncommon in Galveston and other places around the county, it’s against the rules.
Texas health codes generally prohibit dogs from being in restaurants — even in outdoor areas with patios. The rule is enforced by inspectors from the Galveston County Health District, who can fine restaurants that allow dogs in eating areas.
But that rule might soon change. State and local leaders say they are looking at the possibility of changing rules that would make taking dogs out to eat legal in more places.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from Fort Worth, filed Senate Bill 476 in January. The bill would allow a food service establishment to permit a customer to be accompanied by a dog in an outdoor dining area.
The bill would do away with local rules in some cities that require restaurants to have permits and extra inspections in order to allow dogs on their premises, Hancock said.
Hancock modeled his state-wide bill after Austin regulations, which he called “relatively permissive.”
The bill passed out of the Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee last week, and is now able to be voted on by the entire Senate. It would still need to be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott to become law.
“For many Texans, dogs are part of the family, and restaurants that want to welcome them in outside areas should be able to do that without having to worry about extra expenses and over-the-top government regulation,” said Hancock.
In Galveston, it’s not unusual to find dogs sitting on restaurant porches and patios. Some restaurants even have signs up explaining the rules for dogs, or put bowls of water out for dogs.
But county and city officials confirmed last week that, under current rules, dogs are not supposed to be in outdoor eating areas.
Those rules are why you can’t find dogs at some popular outdoor restaurants like The Spot on Seawall Boulevard. Owner Dennis Byrd said he stopped allowing dogs on the porch at The Spot after the health district notified restaurants it would put emphasis on enforcement a couple of years ago.
Telling people they can’t bring their dogs to the restaurant makes some customers unhappy, Byrd said.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Byrd said. “Dogs now are like children. Nowadays, dogs live in the house, they live in the bed, they travel with you. So it’s a disappointment to our guests and certainly negatively reflects on us.”
At the Sunflower Bakery & Café on 14th Street, staff members tell people who bring their dogs to the outdoor area they can tie them up to a fence on the outside of the patio, but technically not inside the dining area, owner Lisa Blair said.
Those rules have definitely driven some customers away, she said. The bakery changed its policy after the health district made it an enforcement policy, she said
“Some people are good with that, and some people are not,” Blair said. “The only reason we stopped was because the health department very specifically told us that we needed to stop.”
Even if Hancock’s bill doesn’t make it all the way through the legislature, local restaurants could be in line for a little extra leash on the local level.
Galveston District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said he intended to bring a local ordinance to the city council later this month that, like Hancock’s bill, would allow restaurants to decide whether dogs are allowed to be on their properties.
“I think being a tourist city and having so many more outdoor patios and things like that, I think it makes sense,” Brown said.
The city council’s next meeting is March 28.
A national group working to end greyhound racing has asked the Texas Racing Commission to investigate the deaths of four dogs at a track in La Marque.
On a chilly Friday afternoon, David Rojas watched his granddaughter and two dogs run through the playground in Jones Park.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” Rojas, a Galveston native, said. “It’s just a mud spot. When it rains a lot, it’s terrible.”
Jones Park, a piece of property the city once wanted to sell, is slated for a facelift, though when that will come is still up in the air.
The park, 71st Street and Jones Drive, has been plagued with drainage problems for years, but when the city put the park up for sale in 2017, voters cast down the measure with about 53 percent of the vote.
Now, the city is in the stages of preliminary design to improve the park and resolve some of the drainage problems, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“We’ve identified funding sources, but we don’t have a cost estimate or a timeline yet because it’s still too early in the design process,” Barnett said.
The city’s first priority is to correct the drainage problems, the city’s Architectural Projects Manager Dudley Anderson said.
“To date, the intention is to create a pond in the center of the park to help with the drainage,” Anderson said. “We hope to use the soils from digging the pond to create raised walkways and play areas so they stay drier.”
The city’s also considering a dog park in one corner and additional parking areas, Anderson said.
Preliminary plan documents also show proposals for a tree farm.
This could be used to store young trees, Anderson said.
“While they are there, they will provide some shaded areas and as they mature, we can move them out to other parts of the city,” Anderson said.
Preliminary documents also show plans for additional lighting and basketball equipment.
Last month, the city’s Industrial Development Corp. approved about $6,500 to demolish the fencing and playground equipment at Jones Park, as part of a $867,500 package of park improvements. The Industrial Development Corp. uses some sales tax revenue to finance projects.
In 2017, the corporation approved $25,000 for park improvements, a pool of money that’s still in the 2019 fiscal year budget, according to corporation finance documents.
Rojas hopes the city will do something with the park, but the city will have to address the drainage issues for it to be usable, he said.
“We came here to play about two or three years ago with the lab,” Rojas said. “The mosquitos were just horrendous.”
He has friends who live just south of the park and complain that mosquitos breed in puddles left in the park after a big storm, he said.
A final plan for Jones Park would need to go through a public comment period and ultimately get approved by the Galveston City Council, Barnett said.