A new Texas law that directs some hotel occupancy taxes to beach-building projects might stabilize what has long been an unpredictable funding source, state and island officials said.
The new law, which began as SB 1719, will take effect in 2021, said Karina Erickson, spokeswoman for the Texas General Land Office.
Before 2015, the land office’s coastal programs got money from a sporting goods sales tax, but that money was redirected to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Erickson said.
The new law pulls 2 percent of the hotel occupancy tax collected from the 13 coastal counties, including Galveston, and puts the money in an account meant to combat coastal erosion, Erickson said.
This 2 percent is coming out of the hotel tax money these counties already sent back to the state.
The land office expects to collect about $35 million every two years from hotel occupancy taxes, she said.
Securing this funding for the land office’s coastal planning program is significant for the Galveston area, where beach building is active and where a significant chunk of the funding comes from the state.
Galveston is in the middle of one such beach-building project, a plan to pump about 711,000 cubic yards of sand between 61st and 83rd streets on Babe’s Beach, which was constructed in 2015 with the same type of process.
Galveston has at least two more projects planned in this area alone within the next four years, and this funding will help, said Reuben Trevino, director of operations for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The park board maintains island beaches and is the local organizer for beach-building projects.
“These funds are used to mitigate sand loss in eroding areas,” Trevino said. “All future beach projects will benefit from these funds moving forward.”
While this doesn’t necessarily mean more money for the land office, a lack of secure funding has always been a concern in getting the state agency to commit to long-term projects, Trevino said.
The park board has submitted proposals for beach building projects that would take place in 2021 and 2023 at Babe’s Beach, a $49 million total expense, Trevino said.
This new source of money might also pay for about $600,000 needed for preliminary engineering work for a new beach in front of Dellanera RV Park, 10901 FM 3005, Trevino said.
The land office in November will tell the park board whether or not it will fund the projects.
“We’ve had positive discussions with the GLO regarding all projects,” Trevino said.
The land office has pointed to coastal erosion prevention as a critical component to combating the detrimental effects of storm surge.
“This is a measure that will help protect our beaches, homes and citizens during storm surge,” Erickson said.
The land office hasn’t dedicated funding to any specific projects yet, she said.
What the island could use is a system that pumps sand from beaches that are naturally getting bigger to beaches that are naturally eroding, Trevino said.
The park board earlier this year piloted a project that would collect sand from East Beach, which is accreting, or growing, naturally.
This new funding could also pay for the $2.1 million needed for the next step in this project, Trevino said.
Some Galveston leaders are eyeing the island’s arts and cultural scene as the next big draw for residents and visitors, and as a boost to the city’s economy.
The island for years has been home to a robust group of local artists, but city leaders have recently begun taking an interest in bolstering and organizing that community to capture economic benefits that other cities with such creative classes have seen.
Local artists have noticed a heightened interest from city leaders in promoting an environment rich with culture and creativity, said Becky Major, creative director of the National Hotel Artist Lofts, 2221 Market St.
The space is home to local artists and is run by a nonprofit that supports artists.
Galveston is an attractive scene for artists right now, Major said.
“You’ve got artists wanting to come to Galveston just because of the music scene down here, just because of the hospitality,” Major said.
Promoting art has tangible economic benefits for a community, said Lisa Shaw, executive director of the Galveston Arts Center.
“It has been proven in other communities that if you have a large arts scene, it attracts more of your residents to spend money,” Shaw said.
Parts of cities that are next to areas with high concentrations of artists typically see growth of restaurants and other businesses, Shaw said.
“If the arts scene grows, the community grows,” Shaw said.
A well-defined creative scene can be a huge boon to a city’s tourism economy, said Jaree Fortin, spokeswoman for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which promotes Galveston tourism.
Cultural tourists, or people who visit a place primarily to view arts, cultural or historic aspects of a community, generally spend $16 more a day and stay 1.56 days longer than the average Texas tourist, Fortin said.
That means that Texans who travel for cultural activities spend an average of $542.83 more than the typical visitor, Fortin said.
The park board is in the middle of an 18-month project to assess and define Galveston’s cultural offerings.
The goal is to create physical, definable places or events to market to visitors, Fortin said.
“We’re talking about asking our local artists to self-identify and creating an online presence for them to list events and offerings,” Fortin said.
But creating that area will mean more investment in the artist community, Fortin said.
Support from city leaders is crucial to attracting people who make art, local painter Elizabeth Punches said.
She paints and sells her art at Elizabeth Punches Studio & Gallery, 410 23rd St., and has lived in Galveston since 2012.
Artists want to live in places where they can afford to come as close as possible to making a living off their own art, Punches said.
People who make their living off their art will only live in places they can afford, and programs that support artists will bring creative people to a city, Punches said.
Affordable places to live especially draw young people to a community, she said.
Right now, Galveston just doesn’t have the level of organization that some larger or more developed artist towns like Austin or Los Angeles might have, Major said.
“I feel like Galveston’s still really grassroots on everything that we do,” Major said.
There aren’t artist unions or organizations that provide health care for artists, she said.
“But I don’t see why we couldn’t eventually,” Major said.
The island’s four West End pocket parks are underused but, with some improvements, could be the key to luring tourists away from beaches traditionally used by residents, according to a recently released report.
Although finding money for upgrades might be a challenge, improved pocket parks could draw tourists away from West End areas favored by residents and toward beaches better designed for visitor use, according to the committee that produced the new report.
With 7.2 million people visiting Galveston each year, beaches that were traditionally used only by residents are attracting tourists, which can cause some tension, said Jerry Mohn, chairman of the committee that produced the report.
The committee was tasked with creating a set of recommendations, which were released last month, to assess Galveston’s beach access points and beach health.
The recommendations called for Pocket Parks 3 and 4 to become model parks, suggesting a boat launch at park 4 and a new pavilion, restroom and showers at park 3.
Pocket Parks 3 and 4 are at 13315 FM 3005 and at 19 Mile Road and FM 3005, respectively.
“The pocket parks aren’t really being utilized the way they should be,” Mohn said. “We just think there’s a potential gold mine.”
Adding bathrooms or cleaning up parking areas at these pocket parks would encourage people to use them more often and could help redistribute crowds now concentrated around popular destinations such as Sunny Beach, where rowdy visitors can cause problems with nearby homeowners, Mohn said.
“They’re having huge issues with Sunny Beach and Hershey Beach,” Mohn said.
The city has spent about $150,000 since 2018 for maintenance and operations at Pocket Parks 1 and 2, which included replacing signage, repairing restrooms and showers and refurbishing a toll booth, among other repairs, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said. These parks are at 11102 FM 3005 and 1175 FM 3005, respectively.
But the city doesn’t have anything planned for Pocket Parks 3 and 4, Barnett said.
Pocket Park 4 is largely undeveloped land.
The city did tear down a pavilion at Pocket Park 3 last year, Barnett said.
“But the parking lot there is being used as a staging area for the FM 3005 work underway,” Barnett said, referring to a two-year project to reconstruct FM 3005.
Committee members would like to see more attention given to the parks and hope to meet with city staff to discuss potential upgrades, Mohn said.
The pocket parks are owned by Galveston County, but are managed by the city, county spokesman Zach Davidson said.
The city in January 2018 took over management of the parks, which were previously overseen by the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
While the county would want to know about any major repairs to the parks, it’s up to the city to decide upon and make those changes, Davidson said.
All of the city’s four parks were damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008, and some of the repairs made last year to Pocket Parks 1 and 2 were in response to storm damage, Barnett said.
The beach pocket parks generated $370,000 in 2018 and 2019, combined, from beach user fees at Pocket Parks 1 and 2, season pass sales and some concessions, Barnett said.
More than 68 percent, or $253,000, is from user fees at Pocket Park 1, Barnett said.