It’s time for Galveston to start getting choosy about festivals.
That was the message from the Galveston City Council this week when members ordered a comprehensive study into how the city should handle festivals and other large events in the future.
City leaders have been gearing up the past few months to analyze the city’s relationship with the many festivals that use city streets and spaces during the year.
With island tourism growing — 7.2 million visitors crossed the causeway last year — it’s a conversation that’s long overdue, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
Galveston doesn’t need to accept every event that proposes coming to the city, but should select those that support the city’s goals, Yarbrough said.
The last time the city conducted an economic impact study of Mardi Gras, the city’s popular two-week, pre-Lenten festival, was in 2007, said David Smith, city executive director of fleet, mass transit and special events.
But the city’s three largest festivals, Mardi Gras, Lone Star Rally and Dickens on the Strand, aren’t what he hears residents complain about, Smith said.
“There were lines at the podium with complaints about, not the big three, but all these parties, fun runs,” Smith said.
Many of these events happen in the winter months, when tourism isn’t traditionally as high, and bring money into the city, Smith said.
Galveston might already have reached the maximum number of runs and athletic events the city can support, said Johnny Zepeda, owner of FitTriRun, 518 23rd St. in Galveston’s downtown.
Many of these races have started moving farther west, away from the downtown area, where roads are less heavily traveled, Zepeda said.
Runs do draw people to the island who spend money at local businesses, he said.
The city hosted more than 45 events last year that required city permits, according to city records. Of those, 12 were runs or other athletic events.
Some of the festivals, such as Mardi Gras, will happen in some fashion no matter whether the city cooperates, District 3 Councilman David Collins said. Collins represents downtown, where many events are held.
Even if the city doesn’t host its own Mardi Gras party, people will celebrate during that week, he said.
This conversation comes just months after some Galveston business owners complained about street closures during Mardi Gras. Charging entry to public streets can take away revenue from businesses behind the gates, opponents said.
But the money from the entry fees offsets festival costs to the city by about $250,000, city officials said.
The city has gotten better about reducing the effect of these events on residents, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
Galveston’s festival problem isn’t a bad one to have, District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said.
“There are a lot of communities that would love to have half as many as these,” Cole said.
The city should assess which of the events furthers the city’s goal of attracting tourists who will stay overnight, she said.
Whatever the city decides, it needs to move quickly as a courtesy to festival promoters, Collins said.
“These major events, you don’t put them together in a single year,” Collins said.
Promoters already are planning festivals for two years from now, so if the city’s making changes to the way it permits festivals, it should give promoters plenty of time to adjust, Collins said.