GALVESTON

The attorney representing a downtown business owner who opposes closure of streets during Mardi Gras filed a cease and desist letter with the city, a spokeswoman said.

The letter, from the attorney of Allen Flores, is in regards to street closures during Mardi Gras, a city spokeswoman said.

The letter comes after a January debate in which some downtown business owners, including Flores, vented frustration over the street closures associated with the pre-Lenten festival, which begins Friday.

Flores owns businesses such as Shark Shack Beach Bar & Grill, 2402 Strand, and Bliss Lounge, 2413 Strand, among others. He organized Mardi Gras in 2009 and 2010 when it was free entry, he said.

Yaga’s Entertainment, owned by Mike Dean, began organizing the festival in 2011 and charging the entry fee.

Attorney Mark Stevens, who represents Flores, declined to comment on the letter Monday.

Flores declined to comment about the letter specifically, but has vocally opposed charging for entry to the festival area downtown, saying the fee prevents customers from visiting businesses.

“Any contract to lock out the citizens from public streets unless they pay off a promoter is illegal,” Flores said. “I’m absolutely in favor of continuing Mardi Gras both on the seawall and downtown, but it’s time for the city to stop breaking Texas laws.”

A cease and desist letter is a document that asks the recipient to stop a purportedly illegal activity and not start the activity again.

The city has authority to close off streets, spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said in previous interviews.

Barnett confirmed the city’s receipt of Flores’ letter Monday.

“The city has a valid contract with Mr. Dean,” Barnett said. “Our city attorney will advise city council of the letter during an executive session duly posted in compliance with the open meetings act.”

The fee for Mardi Gras helps offset the costs the city would otherwise pay to host the celebration, Dean said in previous interviews.

Before 2011, the city spent $500,000 on Mardi Gras-related costs, but spent only $250,000 in 2018, according to city records.

“We have a contract with the city and Mardi Gras is full speed ahead,” Dean said Monday.

Mardi Gras runs through March 5. Some downtown streets will close Thursday at 5 p.m. to allow crews to set up and will reopen by noon Sunday, according to city reports.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(45) comments

Terry Moore

Sounds like if you can't get a piece of the pie you don't want others too. More than likely the opposition has made money off events like this and now that they can't so they want it stopped. I prefer to enjoy Mardi Gras away from the blocked off area and allow the beer booths in it so the families can be away from the alcohol and the partying peeps can pay to drink and urinate in a port-a-can!

Rusty Schroeder

I think his business is inside the blocked streets, thus people would have to pay an entrance fee to have access to his establishments. That is what he is saying is unfair, opposite of what you are saying.

Allen Flores

The issue is with unfairly charging customers and citizens $22 to enter our businesses downtown for two weeks. I absolutely believe that Mardi Gras is good for Galveston and should continue, but downtown should be free just like on the Seawall. Charging citizens $22 to enter public streets and local businesses is illegal in my opinion. It has been going on for 8 years with opposition from 3 dozen businesses. It's the charging of people to have access to our businesses that we are against.

Paul Harrington

It's not 2 weeks; don't exaggerate. It is just the weekends. Your opinion also is not the law so it's irrelevant. Can you also provide the list of the 3 dozen businesses? I'm having trouble coming up with 36 business that are in the blocked off zone.

Paul Harrington

I would also bet that the tax revenue for the city that would be generated from the supposed increase in sales having no fencing and charging to get downtown would be pennies compared to what the city earns in fees.

Allen Flores

The list had about 40 signatures and was delivered to the city in 2015. It basically asked the city to do the Mardi Gras in the downtown just like on the Seawall, where it's free for citizens and customers, without out-of-town-vendors and late-night concerts that are directly attributed to the high city expenses downtown. Of course we do not want Mardi Gras to end, we just want downtown to be like the Seawall where families gather for free and customers are not charged to enter. The promoter charged $22 each day for 5 days over 2 weekends. I hope this clarifies it a little better.

javier hernandez

How can it be legal to charge people to enter public streets? Dean is collecting money from citizens on public streets from every customer of every business downtown. City council is allowing this?

Wayne Holt

This is an interesting situation. I have often wondered where the authority arises to prohibit entry to a public street unless you pay a fee to get in. Obviously those who live downtown within the area are not paying to access their own parking spaces or garages so what is the legal distinction between those taxpayers and other Galveston taxpayers? It seems if Mr. Flores' customers have to pay the City to walk into his business, it would likewise be possible to charge residents to access the street they live on if it is downtown

I think Mr. Flores has a good point, to be honest. Ms. Barnett says the City has the authority to close public streets; of course it does, that is not the question. The question is does it have the authority to close public streets for an event that is promoted for profit rather than common reasons like road or drainage repairs? What does state law say about matters like this? I for one would be interested in reading that authority myself rather than taking someone's word for it.

As for the fees offsetting the cost to the City, this seems like a case of cost shifting. Does the City run the numbers to see if any event actually pays for itself after all associated costs are counted or does it assume any event is a plus for revenue?

This is true for a number of events that the City seems to blithely ordain no matter what the dislocation is to residents or businesses. I spent a good part of one Sunday morning trying to get out of downtown to make an important appointment in Houston. There was another one of the seemingly never-ending 'fun runs' going on and I was held hostage until I physically moved a barricade and waited for a break in the runners. This is an absurd situation, as are local businesses having customers locked out unless they pay a fee to a promoter to use a public street.

Keri, I hope you follow up and publish whatever document the City claims as authority to do this. Until I see that and determine it is compliant with state law, I would have to agree with Mr. Flores that this may be exceeding the City's legitimate authority.

Michael Bailey

I totally agree

Paul Harrington

So let me get this correct. You have issue with local businesses (Mardi Gras) and out-of-town businesses (Biker Rally) paying significant fees to the city in order to use public property? What's the part about cost shifting? The city does not pay for the concert, the city does not pay the working the event, the city does not pay for the infrastructure to run the event, and I could go on. And as for inconveniencing your day; lets say that there are 30 days in total that downtown is shutdown for whatever reason. Mardi Gras, Biker Rally, Dickens, etc.. That is 8.2% of the year and on that 8.2% of days the city is making a fat profit from the fees they charge to people that want to use the public space. Now what the city does with that money is a different conversation but the time investment and the displeasure of 8% of my year in return for improved streets (which the city is doing), improved drainage (which the city is working on), improving parks (which the city is doing) is a great use of a beautiful and historic downtown. That's my opinion from one citizen to another.

Joe Flores

agree Paul !!

Paul Harrington

I need to clarify that there is a chance the city does spend money on some of the items that I mentioned.

Wayne Holt

Let me see if I can clarify some of the points I raised and you asked about, Paul.

Re cost shifting: Denying local businesses their customer base unless they pay a fee to a promoter shifts costs from the city to the businesses who are taxpayers and have a right to public street access. The fact that two parties get together and decide to make a third party pay for their agreement is a definite cost shifting. And no, the City using money it gains for public projects is not compensatory as only a very small number of businesses are denied access so that everyone can take advantage of the funds. Is that fair?

"...the city is making a fat profit from the fees they charge to people that want to use the public space." Two problems here: first of all, I tried to get an all-in accounting on the net revenue from the Lone Star rally when Elizabeth Beeton was my council rep. She looked and there was none available. Is there an accounting done now on every event so that taxpayers know what the net is after ALL costs are subtracted? What about the money leaving the island as the vendors move on, as well as the not insignificant numbers of local businesses who don't open or have their sidewalk entrances too jammed to allow real shoppers in? A profit is made after all costs are accounted for. Is that being done on every event?

The second problem arises in your use of "public space." Is a public space a place where all the public can always go, or is it a place that the city can auction off and close for ticketing? I think this is the essence of Mr. Flores' objection and one that is going to be difficult to overcome, IMHO.

I also agree with Charlotte that taking money that needs to go to improve infrastructure is a bad idea but I would say consider resident quality of life issues along with tourism development and the property tax burden as legitimate concerns.

Jarvis brings up a whole other issue which has been, I regret to say, another case of residents falling under one rule and visitors another, in many cases. Have we stopped to ask if we want events that promote wide open flaunting of laws? Is it really too much to ask that folks come and have a good time within the bounds of law the rest of us must obey every day of the year? I get the impression at times that chanting "tourism" is thought to be a magic mantra that is supposed to solve all our problems.

Tourism solves some problems and creates others; that is the real world. It is up to Galvestonians to manage our reliance on tourism in such a way that local businesses and taxpayers aren't hurt, disadvantaged residents aren't shut out of community events, and the character of our city does not become associated with a license to land here, raise hell and then leave us to clean up and cope.

Kelly Naschke

Very good points Wayne. I also agree with Mr. Flores.
Leroy

Jarvis Buckley

I would like for Brian Maxwell to give us a detailed explanation of this . From a financial standpoint as well
as the legal aspects of this business agreement with the City.

Rusty Schroeder

He probably can's right now because of the lawsuit.

javier hernandez

I don't think there is a lawsuit. What law lets Dean keep citizens out of the downtown unless they pay him?

Charlotte O'rourke

City policies impact city growth and opportunity. Past policies - from previous city councils - have contributed to many Galveston families moving off the island to the mainland, and creating a more transient, short term and rental population.

Thankfully, the city has been revamping some of these past policies through an asset review.

The question should be - how do we have events like Mardi Gras that help local hotel and tourism businesses without putting extra tax burdens on the city general fund and therefore on property owners?

Taking $500,000 from the general fund that pays for safety and infrastructure is not a long-term solution in my opinion. HOT tax should be helping alleviate these extra event expenses but locally passed ordinances pose limitations that need reassement.

People have been voting with their feet by moving away from Galveston.

It’s time to stop that exodus trend by working together to find ways to help businesses while controlling the burdens of ever increasing taxes on local residents.

javier hernandez

Maybe it's time to treat it like a normal weekend since the city can't figure it out. A couple of day parades and let it be. Why the need for attracting a bunch of drunks to the downtown. The motorcycle weekend is almost as crazy. How is it that the motorcycle people don't get to charge citizens. Sounds like special treatment. Just treat it like a normal weekend. Why not.

Joe Flores

Agree about bike rally and just charge less for Mardi gras

Steve Fouga

As an ordinary citizen with no dog in the hunt, I've long wondered whether Mardi Gras, with its heightened law enforcement presence, is actually profitable for the city. Having never seen the ledger, I've assumed it must be, or else the city wouldn't promote it or even allow it to happen.

Aside from benefit to the city, I resent being charged to enter because, for me at least, the downtown Mardi Gras doesn't provide good value for the money. The high entry fee makes it a certainty that I won't be downtown while it's in progress.

Rusty Schroeder

I agree with Steve, I am not paying to walk around downtown then spend more money with vendors or restaurants. I would much rather see Pat Green at The Grand instead of standing outside amongst a bunch of drunk kids. Good luck to those that will and have a good time downtown. Just be aware the state and county will be waiting on the other side of the Causeway, and your stay in Galveston could be a little longer and definitely more costly than planned.


Jarvis Buckley

A lot of things go on downtown during the mardi gras events , that are not very wholesome. It's not all
fun an games. Many of us remember
A picture in GDN of a young lady , I believe under age dancing on the hood of a car in her birthday suit.
My advice enjoy the parade from the Seawall area.

Joe Flores

agree with you Jarvis ... life is choice and many things go with bike rally also ... remember because I am alwys there ..thanks

Coote Wright-Broughton

Dickens does the same thing on city streets, why was no complaint brought up then? Was shark shack not open? Or in the process of opening?
Andrew Wright-Broughton

Rusty Schroeder

Dickens charges $22 a person to attend?

Steve Fouga

$15

Miceal O'Laochdha

Mardi Gras (the French version of Carnival) began in Mobile in 1703 and New Orleans then followed suite after its founding some 20 years later. Neither of these cities charge their citizens or anyone else to walk the streets in the historic centers of their cities. Somehow, incredibly, only Galveston needs to do this in order to celebrate Mardi Gras. Why not cut the smoke and mirrors excuses and call it what it is: a bold-faced money grab. One that undermines the legitimacy of Galveston's claim to a historic Mardi Gras "tradition".

horace norris

Lol...and being gouged for more $ for the special at lunch at the shack during biker rally was fair....

Lisa Blair

Any location has it’s drawbacks and accommodating the street closures and festivals is part of being on the Strand. You signed up for it. It’s worth noting that along with benefiting from the promotion of the specific events themselves, Strand and Downtown businesses benefit from the full blown marketing efforts of the City, Park Board, CVB, Port, Etc. Mardi Gras puts thousands of people outside of your business for two weekends in the slow season. Make it work for you.

javier hernandez

Its illegal to block a business. Anybody with a business on sea wall would never agree to let yagas collect a cover charge for themselves and the city. Maybe it should end if the city can't pay for it, but it really does appear to be illegal to collect from citizens.

Joe Flores

Yes it does and helps most businesses in galveston , especially restaurants all over the island ...more so for ones close to the Strand and downtown ... totally agree !!

Joe Flores

Agree

Bobby Pope

Set up the Octagon and have a battle royal. Last man standing wins.

George Croix

All this talk about breaks for Galveston citizens is great but what about all the rest of the USA's taxpaying citizens, all of whom to some degree have a financial interest in that city where the hand is always out for 'federal money', so should those OPM folks also be charged to use an area that they likely ponied up 'grant money' or 'recovery funds' for??
Is it OK to beg then exclude donors unless they pay even more .....?
Well, yeah, that is a tad over the top, but ya never know how many worms are really in the can until the lid gets taken off....

Marc Edelman

How about selling dinner packages at the gates for restaurants in the illegally closed area that include admission

Karen Gross

I think it is a good idea to charge people to enter. It’s a good way to control crowds in the downtown area.

Joe Flores

Agree

Miceal O'Laochdha

They are charging the seamen from the cruise ships $22 apiece to walk across the street at 20th to enter the Galveston Seafarers Center. This is where they pickup the packages they have ordered on line to bring home to their families in the Philippines, Malaysia, and similar poor countries and these seamen are being paid substandard wages to begin with (that's why you see a Panamanian flag on the ship's fantail). We need take their money too?? $22 could feed their families for a week in the P.I.

jeff nielsen

Get rid of charging for events like Mardi Gras and
Dickens will. No longer be a GALVESTON event
Are the citizens of GALVESTON ready to give up dickens??

Joe Flores

No not at all ... bike rally !!!

Miceal O'Laochdha

Mobile has celebrated Mardi Gras for 316 years and New Orleans just a few years short of that, yet neither one has ever charged admission to historic downtown or parade routes. Why does Galveston, with MUCH smaller celebration that either of those original cities, need to charge admission? Either poor financial and procedural policies or is it just greed?

Bill Cochrane

Not comparable. Galveston population about 50,000.
Mobile about 200,000
New Orleans about 400,000

Miceal O'Laochdha

Bill, I believe they are eminently comparable. Galveston Mardi Gras is by no means oriented to the 50,000 population of this city. It is oriented to the population of the 4th largest city in the country, just up the road a short piece. Just look at how many folks ( including movers and shakers) in the Galveston Mardi Gras societies are Houston residents. Or the hundreds of thousands of folks getting charged to enter the historic downtown area. Galveston's Mardi Gras is, to a large extent, Houston's Mardi Gras.

Bill Cochrane

Miceal, the point made is that large cities have a much larger general fund to absorb cost of public events.

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