In September, The Daily News argued that if the city were going to build a new facility at Stewart Beach, it shouldn’t go cheap because in tourist towns, appearances are everything.
The Daily News argued the Park Board of Trustees, which oversees tourism in Galveston, had an opportunity to make an important investment in a new 71,000-square-foot pavilion at Stewart Beach to replace the deteriorated, obsolete 51,000-square-foot building there now.
The park board had, at the time, predicted a new pavilion at Stewart Beach could, after five years of operation, bring in between $2.1 million and $2.5 million in yearly revenue, compared with $1.3 million from the existing building.
But that new building might also cost $25 million to build. Kelly de Schaun, park board executive director, pointed out that the $25 million came from fulfilling a lengthy wish list and that the price might be less.
Still, any number in that neighborhood would be a lot of money.
The Daily News argued at the time that while frugality with public money is a virtue, when taken to the extreme it could also have the opposite effect of what’s intended, costing the city millions in tourism-generated dollars.
But as the discussions surrounding the project progress, it’s clear there’s little agreement whether a new public facility at Stewart Beach would attract tourists, who are increasingly traveling to the island’s West End. Some city council members worry an expensive pavilion won’t attract more visitors.
But it’s also clear that doing nothing is a bad idea. The park board argues the pavilion is 10 years past its expiration date and an inefficient place to run beach operations. That’s not a trifling concern.
The building’s design has led to inefficient uses of space that create complications. The original building, a night club, wasn’t designed to house park board facilities. The park board spends about $70,000 yearly to maintain the existing facility, a cost officials estimate would come down with newer materials and modern beach-adapted technology.
The city council has expressed little enthusiasm in investing in a new facility, and is more focused on fixing drainage problems at Stewart Beach. And the city council, including Mayor Jim Yarbrough, isn’t convinced a new facility would attract more tourists. But is it a vicious cycle? Can part of the reason Stewart Beach is attracting fewer tourists be attributed to the shabby condition of the pavilion? Would investing many millions of dollars in a new facility have a true return on investment in public money?
Is there a compromise in there? Certainly, the city could invest in making the building more efficient for the Beach Patrol, a vital operation in Galveston.
Much is unclear, and there are many questions that need answers before sinking that kind of public money into a new facility.
The Daily News still argues that if the public invests in a new facility, it shouldn’t be so much on the cheap side that in another 15 years we’ll be talking about this again.
What is clear is that the public is going to need some hard proof of return on investment before more money is spent on design and plans.
• Laura Elder