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.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(11) comments

Allen Flores

Some cities celebrate Mardi Gras for only one day or one weekend. Having a promoter that demands costs of about $400,000 with a payment of $100,000 makes no sense to continue. The city can solve the burdens of events with “Better Locations” that don’t impact citizens, businesses or city spending. Currently, fun runs and big events are creating huge expenses for the city. One weekend of Mardi Gras parades costs $60,000, but adding a promoter’s demand for two weekends of charging entry fees and night parties raises the city’s costs to over $380,000. The city should rethink fun runs and large events by moving them away from businesses and residents. Instead of offsetting the promoter's high costs, it's smarter to eliminate the high costs permanently by changing the locations.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Allen, which cities with a tradition of Mardi Gras (or Carnival for those places who do not use the French name for Fat Tuesday) only celebrate on one day or one weekend? I have never heard of a legitimate Carnival celebration that did not follow the standard two week cycle. Except of course, for Galveston, that restricts the parades and public celebration to weekends, when we can convince the Houston crowd to drive to the Island.

Allen Flores

Let me be clear, Mardi Gras is a two week celebration that I love, but fencing out all customers to every business, unless they payoff a promoter, should be changed. The promoter’s $22 entry fees, concerts and placement of street vendors in front of our businesses has nothing to do with Mardi Gras. The promoter’s late hours over two weekends are what drives all city spending way past what the promoter pays. It’s a terrible business model that uses public funds to block public access. To answer your question, the list of cities that only have only one parade on Fat Tuesday, or no parades is too long to list. But Pensacola is one of them. I think city management is now looking into great alternatives to reduce city expenses. By relocating non-family, night events, paid gates, and street-vending away from downtown, Galveston's historic district can resume unobstructed access for families every weekend.

Christopher Smith

We don't want people having too much fun in Galveston. Better to get rid of all of these festivals and holidays. I mean, how else can we get people to work tirelessly all year round if they are always running off to have fun, drink beer and hangout with their friends?

Matthew Dan

I'm not seeing anybody say that ending fun or ending events is part of the plan. The Krews pay for all parades in New Orleans. Making Mardi Gras parades one weekend is a great way to save the city money. The motorcycle event should have never been placed in the historic district in the first place.

Joe Flores


Joe Flores

agree ...

Joe Flores

Many businesses downtown have no problem with fencing for Mardi Gras ....we do have more problems and no business and that should be moved from Historic Downtown ... know its great for hotels so move it to where they all are ... the beach !!

Rusty Schroeder

I am against the fencing and a "public use" fee. This is what I saw last year, all the island restaurants that are in the same group as Yaga's were offering a dinner + admission fee at a reduced price. So you have Seawall and other downtown restaurants that were outside of the "entertainment zone" offering basically a half price admission ticket as long as you eat at their establishment which is prt of the Yaga's group. This is where I see the rub that any establishment or restaurant would have that is inside of the "entertainment zone" but not affiliated with Yaga's. You have to pay for their services or meals plus full price admission to the "entertainment zone". I saw this as basically a monopoly, which in turn is unfair. I am surprised no one has mentioned this.

Joe Flores

not all about restaurants ... has always been an Historic shopping district and restaurants were part of the distric ... they should have paid parking til 12:00 midnight if they are so the focus !!! have a MO BETTAH DAY

Mike Dean

Rusty for clarification those packages are offered in writing to ALL restaurants in and out of the district. None of the places Yaga's own participate. The Galveston Restaurant Groups places and Riondo's are the only ones that take advantage of the plan over the last 7 years. There is also a hotel package that is similar in nature and only used by the biggest 5 hotels.

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