Car counts at two of the city’s most popular beach parks have dropped by as much as 40 percent since 2013, according to statistics from the Park Board of Trustees.
The number of cars parking at Stewart Beach dipped from more than 111,000 in 2013 to 92,748 in 2015 and less than 75,000 last year, according to park board data.
Part of the decline has been driven by the opening of Babe’s Beach in 2015, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
The rebuilding project brought new tracts of sand to the area west of 61st Street, offering new beach for residents and tourists to use.
“Following on 2014, we actively promoted Babe’s Beach as a means to get people back down to the coast,” de Schaun said. “We had a huge uptick that year, 23 percent increase in revenues on the seawall.”
A Texas City oil spill and a year of heavy seaweed also contributed to fewer cars visiting East End beaches in 2014, de Schaun said.
But that’s only part of the cause, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
Flooding also contributed to the decline, said Brown, who also sits on the park board.
“When we have rains and even after the rains, the water will pool in those parking areas,” Brown said. “There’s just not as many parking places and it’s just not as inviting for families to go down there.”
This is an issue the park board has seen more in the past few years and one the group plans to address, Brown said.
More visitors also have been frequenting West End beaches to avoid paying parking fees along the seawall and at Stewart Beach, park board officials have said.
The board is studying options to build a new pavilion at Stewart Beach with a preliminary cost of $25 million.
The board hopes the proposed 71,000-square-foot building will bring in between $2.1 million and $2.5 million a year and drive more tourists to the beach with increased shopping, dining and activity options, park board officials said.
Such a building wouldn’t bring additional tourists to the island, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
“I’m not convinced in my mind that building a pavilion on Stewart’s beach will draw one more tourist to Galveston,” Yarbrough said.
He also worries about the cost to maintain such a building, he said.
The flexible nature of seawall parking may also be a factor in why visitors prefer these spaces over those in East Beach, de Schaun said.
“On the seawall, visitors can pay by the hour, move anywhere on the seawall and access a plethora of restaurants,” de Schaun said.
The seawall parking, fees for which were imposed in 2013, costs $1 an hour with an $8 daily cap. A city council-appointed committee is reviewing the cost, location and hours of charged seawall parking in advance of the ordinance facing a sunset vote by 2020.
But the park board does hope to increase counts at the East End beaches, Brown said.
“Those car counts, that’s revenue to the park board,” Brown said.
The park board estimates Stewart Beach holds about 3,000 parking spaces, with 5,000 at East Beach and 2,100 along the seawall, de Schaun said.