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.