Some business leaders want the city to reallocate money dedicated to building a new Pelican Island bridge to assist businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But other city officials don’t want to relinquish the money, which would go toward a much-needed new connector to Pelican Island, a project local and state leaders have long fought for.

Members of the Galveston Industrial Development Corp. have for months been debating how to provide assistance to businesses hurt by the coronavirus.

The corporation uses some sales tax revenue for economic development, infrastructure and other projects.

The city has proposed allocating some development corporation money to assisting businesses — $58,000 for utility assistance or $69,000 to help market the island. The city also proposed allocating $490,000 for direct grants to businesses, but because of state regulations, the corporation could only give that money to businesses that supply primary jobs.

Those jobs include architectural services, transportation and warehousing and charter boat fishing, but not restaurants, retail stores or bars.

Members of the corporation agreed that amount wasn’t enough for the estimated 2,222 businesses on the island.

“We just don’t really have enough funds to do what we want to do,” Mayor pro tem Craig Brown said. Brown is acting as mayor.

But the corporation does have $5 million sitting in its accounts that’s dedicated to the city’s portion of the new Pelican Island budget and members of the board should think about using that for businesses, said Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce representative on the board.

“I’m not saying shut off giving money to the bridge,” Tarlton-Shannon said. “We need to relook at it and give some money to our businesses. I think it’s a very reasonable request at this time.”

The corporation approved the $5 million for the bridge project in early March, before a wave of pandemic closures swept across the region.

A new bridge to Pelican Island has eluded local leaders for years. Earlier this year, local leaders still were seeking funding commitments for the new structure, estimated to cost $105 million, that would replace the 65-year-old bridge.

The city has dedicated $5 million, which the corporation set aside in its budget, to be allotted at $1 million each year over the next five years, to secure the commitment.

Other members of the corporation were reluctant to consider pulling money from the bridge project.

“My inclination is to not pull any money from the bridge,” corporation member and District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said. “I think the bridge is critically important to Galveston.”

The corporation has a mission to fund projects within four groups of money dedicated to economic development, infrastructure, parks and beaches, member and District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle said.

“I think that we can make more impactful contributions with these amounts if we stick within the scope of our mission,” Hardcastle said.

The Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the bridge project, but the money could help businesses that are struggling to survive the pandemic, said Gina Spagnola, president and CEO of the chamber.

“A lot of them feel like August will be very telling for them on whether they’ll even make it into the fall,” Spagnola said.

The corporation also is talking about proposing matching grants to some local foundations for businesses and partnering with the chamber and Galveston Park Board of Trustees to help drive more business to the island through marketing.

The corporation plans to discuss the options again next month.

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


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(11) comments

Robert Braeking

Politicians!!!! The reason businesses are hurting is because city council, to borrow a phrase from BHO, acted stupidly. The draconian measures they enacted, such as closing the beaches and discouraging tourism, hurt local business. The Covid virus will run its course DESPITE the attempts of government to hold back the tide.

The Pelican Island Bridge project is most important for the industrial development of the port. Tourism is a delicate economy on which to hang one's hat.

David Schuler

This is just nuts.

Lisa Blair

Just because Republicans don’t want to give anymore “handouts” or add to the deficit 😆 by funding the next relief package, don’t expect to raid the funds set aside for an important infrastructure project. Another, properly managed, round of PPP could help Galveston’s businesses. The Chamber should be lobbying their Republican buddies to do their jobs.

Carlos Ponce

The best way to help Galveston businesses is to do business with them. That's up to the citizens of Galveston, not Congress.

Theresa Elliott

Once again, The Daily "Opinion" posts inaccurate headlines to create drama. The Chamber has not pushed anything of the sort. There has been some discussion about options for helping struggling businesses at the Advocacy Committee and some members asked about the funds dedicated to the bridge (specifically are there other entities like the Houston Port or Navigation district that should be pitching in that might free up some of those funds). But the Chamber Board of Directors has not even discussed this. The Daily News has got to stop with these inaccurate and misleading headlines.

Raymond Lewis

I'd say the head line led things astray. The article clearly indicates 'some' business folks would like to see the bridge funds moved and not necessarily the Chamber. The included was from a member of a Chamber Committee andnot necessarily speaking for the Chambers Board of Directors.

Karen Sawyer

I am so glad you posted this. I really thought they were. Don't know what to do with this paper.

Ron Shelby

It has been a long and hard fight to get the bridge funding together. In the past, Galveston has had a problem with delaying significant infrastructure projects way past the point at which they should have been done. (Just look how long we had that wooden water supply line coming from the mainland!) Find another way to keep this infrastructure funding in place. Tourists will always come to Galveston. Its the beach that attracts them.

Lisa Blair

From the August 4th article

“Tarlton-Shannon also has advocated for using some or all of the $5 million the corporation committed for the city’s portion of the Pelican Island bridge project for business grants.”

She is the Chamber’s designated representative on the IDC so I don’t think the headline’s wrong

Raymond Lewis

"Wrong" Lisa, is perhaps a stretch. Although not for sure, I doubt Tarlton-Shannon felt she was speaking on behalf of the Chamber. The article does need some clarity with respect to the head line. I discovered awhile back that those things (headlines) are NOT written by the writer of the article.

David Landriault

People need to be made aware that if we repurpose these funds, which we can only allocate at $1 million a year, we lose $45 million in matching federal funds for the bridge. We need this critical infrastructure improvement for long-term economic growth which helps us diversify and move away from a "tourism-only" economy. Let's not sell the baby to pay for organic formula. This money is already doing all it can to help Galveston's future growth. Leave it where it can do the most good.

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