Knights of Momus

The Mardi Gras crowd awaits the arrival of the Knights of Momus parade on 25th Street for theon Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.

The city of Galveston is within its rights to close the downtown streets for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration, contrary to what a local business owner and former contract holder for the event demands.

An attorney representing the downtown business owner — and the man who lost the contract to the current promotor — opposes closure of streets during Mardi Gras and has filed a cease and desist letter with the city, a spokeswoman said.

Neither Allen Flores, whose attorney sent the letter to the city, nor the attorney, nor the city would comment much about the details.

The letter, however, was about closing streets during Mardi Gras, a city spokeswoman said.

Flores recently has been arguing the city can’t legally do that.

Flores owns businesses such as Shark Shack Beach Bar & Grill, 2402 Strand, and Bliss Lounge, 2413 Strand, among others. He organized Mardi Gras in 2009 and 2010 when it was free entry, he said.

“Any contract to lock out the citizens from public streets unless they pay off a promoter is illegal,” Flores said. “I’m absolutely in favor of continuing Mardi Gras both on the seawall and downtown, but it’s time for the city to stop breaking Texas laws.”

Communities regularly close public streets and roads for events. And to hold a community event where admission is charged is neither unheard of or illegal in Galveston — or thousands of communities around the country.

Charging admission is a volume control tool to manage the number of people attending an event. Without such a tool, admission becomes fluid and the situation can become difficult to manage. Safety, the number of attendees, and ability to manage crowds is an important element of any festival or gathering.

The fee for Mardi Gras helps offset the costs the city would otherwise pay to host the celebration, Mike Dean, whose company, Yaga’s Entertainment, has the contract to organize Mardi Gras events downtown, has said in previous interviews.

Before 2011, the city spent $500,000 on Mardi Gras-related costs, but spent only $250,000 in 2018, according to city records.

Yes, they are public streets. But the city also has a responsibility to make decisions about how to best operate events with an eye to financial outcomes and safety. A large event without any built-in crowd control mechanisms can be a danger to those attending as well as those in surrounding businesses and residences.

Owners of most businesses operating in the The Strand know the traditional festivals are great draws for both residents and visitors. The festivals all come with downsides, but people who open businesses knew they were signing on for these dips and spikes in their businesses.

Galveston and its festivals should always be safe for families and those who wish to celebrate with a sense of safety. The control mechanism for attendance is limited, targeted and reasonable.

As for the aggressive and vocal opposition from the person who lost the contract to the current holder, it is enough to make a reasonable person pause and wonder about the motivation.

In the first place, while anybody might reasonably argue there should be a fundamental rethinking of island festivals, that can’t begin a few months or weeks, much less a few days, before a main one of those events gets underway.

Second, anyone arguing for a new way must be able to show how that change would not cost taxpayers anymore than the current deal is costing. Going back to a method that costs taxpayers $500,000 should not be an option.

Third, why would that discussion be limited to Mardi Gras? The city restricts vehicle traffic on The Strand during The Lone Star Rally also and that event intrudes on the private and working lives of people all over the island as well.

Finally, if a rethinking is in order, it needs to be driven by and include more voices than apparent in this effort.

• Leonard Woolsey

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

President & Publisher

(30) comments

Rusty Schroeder

Third ,,,,,, Though the city closes downtown streets for the Lone Star Rally they do not charge you an admission fee to walk down the Strand. The LSR probably brings in more money to Galveston than Mardi Gras. Both have beads and half clothed women on balcony's and the street after dark. LSR has bike parades all day down the Strand, Mardi Gras has floats and riders. Both events have nightly concerts and both sell huge amounts of alcohol/beer. The 2nd Sunday has the Shriners Children Parade, The Barkus Parade, and the Firefighters Childrens Parade. That is the only time you are probably not to hear " Show Me Your **** " while downtown on the Strand. So enjoy, just remember ladies, cell phones record and the internet awaits. :)

Joe Flores

Rusty ...agree and most businesses do fine with sales for Mardi Gras and DIckes , but poorly for bike rally .... they bring their retail with them ... have it all on the beach... thank you

Rusty Schroeder

Myrte Beach, SC has their bike rally on the Boulevard that we call Seawall. I believe they called it Broadway, it's been a few years, and it is way different than the LSR. They call it Bike Week, they even have a Canadian Bike Week in late February.

Allen Flores

There is no law that allows Yaga's to charge an admission fee on public streets. If so, please publish it in your newspaper. Yaga's paid the city $15,000 in 2011, the rest was paid with public money. How was that good for taxpayers? Since you brought it up, the contract was not offered to anyone through a sealed bid process in 2011. I agree that a city can close streets for legitimate reasons, Yaga's profits are not one of them. Please publish the law that allows any private company to charge admissions on public streets.

Jarvis Buckley

Leonard how many city's in Texas & Louisiana baracade off their streets so the patrons can be charged entrance fee. I have to say I wouldn't go if you paid me but to each his/her own. Rusty is making a valid point . With cell phones & internet what happens on the balcony of the strand don't stay on the Strand. Alcohol &
good judgement generally are not found in the same place. Forewarned is forearmed . Don't let a belly full of beer ruin your career . Leonard says paying your $22 to get in is justified.
I'll be staying home with my sweet wife of over a half a century, with our pups watching our fireplace, drinking
Cranberry juice. God is Great, beer is
Good, people are crazy. Please be careful.

Joe Flores

kewk ...enjoy !!

Joe Flores

sorry Jarvis ... meant to say kewl !! lol

George Croix

Rotate the location centers of the events, to spread out any negative impact.
For example, hold them all on Teichman Road for a few years........

Allen Flores

There is no beef with Yaga's, I would oppose anybody who charges my customers to enter my business without my consent, as the law states. Nobody can legally deny citizens access unless they are paid-off $22 or any amount of money.

Joe Flores

Good article Leonard but a few comments . Many arguments have been brought up to City Leaders to no avail . The Strand and Downtown is an Historical District for shopping , dining and entertainment , but has regressed into a place that focuses on beer sales !! Image and focus should be on maintaining the cool preserved Historical District ... the way it started out and used to be !! This determination , effort , and marketing would not cost a lot of taxpayer money .... and consist of a lot of PRIDE !! Bike Rally is not an event for a preserved asset that the city has and should be somewhere els... thank you and have a Mo' Bettah day !!

Jarvis Buckley

Joe , Mrs Elizabeth Beeton tried to explain that to the previous administration while she was on council. It went in one ear out the other.

Wayne Holt

Regarding a contract between the City and Yaga's Entertainment: the first thing that has to be established is not if it makes money for the City, it's if it is legal to do so. Galveston has more latitude in many regards as a home rule community but there are some things even home rule doesn't allow. Is this one of them? Mr. Flores has asked to see the legal justification but that may be something that will have to happen in a courtroom. I agree with Leonard the timing should not be in the wind-up to the event but it should be taken up as soon as possible when this one is over.

Leonard makes a point about crowd control and public safety issues that a ticketed event can assist with. I am sure there are a lot of folks off island who can afford a $22 entrance fee before buying a beer...and a lot of folks right in Galveston who would not use that $22 that they need for food or rent to attend instead. They live here, may have many generations BOI and yet won't be able to join while someone from Katy can. Do we want that? It's a legitimate question.

I propose a solution that may be a compromise Mr. Flores and Mr. Dean might consider: how about giving free admission to everyone who can show a current government issued ID card with photo if it shows a Galveston address? One ID card, one entrant. They will have more money to spend on taxable items at our businesses, disadvantaged Galveston residents won't have to watch from the sidelines and we can still hunt down all those off-island tourist dollars by ticketing that make the economy hum.

I know Mr. Flores and Mr. Dean are reading these comments. What do you say? Is that a reasonable compromise?

Rusty Schroeder

I live 15 miles from Galveston in Santa Fe, dine and spend time on the Island almost on a weekly basis. I have worked in Galveston and donated to various organizations on the Island as well as helped with Hurricane Ike cleanup. You want me to tell you what you can do with your proposed solution ? It's attitudes exactly like yours why I dine at a North County establishment like Abuelo's instead of driving across the Causeway to The Original Mexican Restaurant. This time of year, during the week, is when Galveston restaurants need mainland patrons. So maybe you will think next time before lumping all off-islanders in the same category as ones from Katy. Heck, I was BIA, maybe I should be able to set the rules since I was born in the city that makes the laws. :)

Wayne Holt

It's not an attitude, Rusty, it's a suggestion of a compromise. If you have something that would be more equitable and that would have a chance of acceptance, by all means share it here.

Do you think it's necessary to go nuclear over a suggestion? Just point out the problem you see with it and if you have a better solution that might bring things to a close without a lawsuit, I think any reasonable person would support it, whether they live on-island or off the island. I know I would.

Rusty Schroeder

Wayne it's the off-island tourists comment and BOI privilege, I like to look at the county as a whole. Where does Galveston's water come from, where does there trash go? Get what I am saying, far from nuclear. Yes, I could come up with multiple suggestions for Mardi Gras, but Galveston is not organized enough for any of them nor has the budget for an event that is dictated by weather. I wouldn't charge for an entertainment district, the concerts would be stand alone events with a promoter managing them. When you put 2 local business owners and taxpayers in direct competition on the same street, with one getting paid a head count fee that is not evenly shared between all businesses, it smells. I know he put up money to go into a contract with the city, but is it a bid contract? As long as there is a fee to enter an establishment that is within the entertainment zone, and the person getting the fee also runs a business in the middle of it, their is going to be problems with the owners that are getting nothing from the fee. If the weather is bad like is forecast for this Friday and Saturday nights, downtown will be dead inside the zone. Now the 2nd weekend it should be packed because there is no Seawall competition. How bout the charge being $10 the first weekend and $25 the 2nd weekend ? That seems more reasonable, and would probably generate more guests. But my 1st thing would be promotion of the concerts, hold one in The Grand, another on the deck of a parked Cruise Ship. Now there is some out of the box thinking, have Carnival promote theirs, as long as the ship is docked Galveston makes money.

Chuck DiFalco

Mr. Woolsey, you are sidestepping the central issue. Can a Texas city (or county or regional authority) legally deny taxpaying citizens access to public roads if they refuse to pay? Is a Texas toll road legally a public road or a private road? If a toll road is considered a public road, I don't think the plaintiff in this case has a chance in court. I hope Texas law reflects what I consider both just and fair, namely, that a toll road is a private road and therefore can levy a fee, and that public roads with sidewalks cannot be shut off from citizens refusing to pay an entry fee, regardless of the event or circumstance. Even Mardi Gras in Galveston.

Wayne Holt

Chuck, that really is the sum total of the issue and it doesn't get any simpler than that. You may have also noticed that toll roads have free access roads that run alongside and parallel to the toll road. So you can get to the same destination--with a few more stop lights--as the paying toll road driver. There isn't a similar accommodation here for businesses or individuals in the entertainment zone.

As Mr. Flores points out below, he has employees that have to pay to use a public sidewalk to get to work. How is that fair in anyone's mind? How is that legal?

The nature of large-scale "community events" has morphed over the years from celebrations anyone could attend to ones that are spectacles that can limit admission to those with the discretionary income to pay to get inside. This phenomenon in regards to Mardi Gras seems to be something unique to Galveston among the well-known festivals. I would support Rusty's suggestion of paid admission to a concert or special exhibits of some kind but not to rope off an entire district and charge to get in.

Mr. Flores' follow-up comments are also instructive if accurate as they go back to the issue of just how profitable are these events to we the citizens when all costs are counted? These are all legitimate questions and if the promoter and the City have answers to meet these objections it would behoove them to share it with taxpayers and business owners who, after all, are certainly involved but not direct parties to the contract.

Kelly Naschke

Silly question....but if charging admission to Mardi Gras was good for the bottom line...why would Mr. Flores Be petitioning for a change. He’s a business man trying to make money. He would want what’s best for business...right?

Allen Flores

Of course Mardi Gras is good for Galveston, it must continue. But the city is unable to publish any law that allows them to surround our downtown businesses with fences, out-of-town vendors and $22 fees. There is no such law because it would violate antitrust laws and free trade. The city should follow the law for all festivals, not just Mardi Gras.

We believe that forcing our customers to pay-off another company to access our businesses is illegal. Whenever cities block streets, there must be public hearings and written consent forms signed from all businesses or it is not allowed.

Dozens of businesses have repeatedly requested that the city stop charging our customers to enter our businesses during Mardi Gras. The Mardi Gras contract has lasted 8 years with two extensions and it expired again in 2018, but the city manager extended it again.

We’ve asked the city to relocate the promoter and their late-night concerts away from our businesses so the city doesn’t need to cover its costs anymore. That would end our dispute and drastically reduce the unnecessary high expenses that are directly caused by the promoter’s late-night concerts. Why should Galvestonians subsidize the promoter and why should the city hold an event that it can’t afford? The city’s reasoning to charge our customers is to offset the costs that the promoter should be paying. The city charged the promoter only $15,000 in 2011, your public funds covered the rest. The promoter paid only $40,000 in 2012. The promoter made 100% of all vending, admission fees, sponsorships while the city covered the rest with public funds. There were riots in 2013 and 2014, so the fee doesn’t create a family atmosphere as some keep claiming as an excuse to charge everybody. If the crowds are so bad downtown, why does the city keep extending the contract?

The sole reason that the city’s costs are so high is because of the promoter’s late-night concerts over two weeks. Today’s security threats are reason enough to stop fencing-in large crowds. Bigger is not better.

It’s unconvincing to say that fencing in thousands of drinkers for sixteen hours is a smart or safe thing to continue. It places law enforcement in a bad situation that does not exist on the Seawall, where no concerts exist.

Many believe that the city’s actions are illegal. It allows a promoter to dictate how many of our employees are allowed into work for free, the rest of our employees must pay them. The promoter refuses to allow in our restaurant reservations for free, so a reservation for eight must pay the promoter $176 in order to eat. The Seawall plan has no promoter, no fences and no fees. It’s affordable and fun. The easy solution is for the city to publish the law in the newspaper that states that it’s legal to charge our customers. If not, they should comply with the law by moving the concerts and stop charging citizens to enter our businesses.

Charlotte O'rourke

Every party has a price tag.

Mardi Gras has been a funding issue since its inception. To verify, just go to GDN search and type, “Mardi Gras revenue”, and see the editorials and articles on this ongoing issue. There were complaints under the Park Board, when it was free, and when it charged a cover.

Many want the party, but don’t want to actually pay for it, or use Hot funds to pay for it, or have party goers pay for it.

Instead, they want the city general fund to pick up the party tab, and it to be totally free for everyone else.

New Orleans is paying $7,000,000 to clean up beads from the storm drains due to blockage and drainage issues. Just one party expense.

Free? Really?

Joe Flores

Amen 🤪‼️

Miceal O'Laochdha

Charlotte, your reference to just one (large) cost to New Orleans for Mardi Gras is well noted and doubtless correct. But, it makes one wonder how are they funding such costs? They do not charge their own residents ( or visitors) to walk thru the French Quarter or down St. Charles Ave. And, Mobile does not charge people to walk around Bienville Square, Dauphine or Government Streets. It might be useful to learn how those cities, hosting Mardi Gras for a couple of centuries now, handle the inevitable costs incurred. I think I will look into that and see if I find something useful to Galveston.

AJ LeBlanc

There are several aspects of the Galveston Mardi Gras that I much prefer over the New Orleans version - including a smaller venue and better overall security to name just a few.

Charlotte O'rourke

Michael, I’m not sure of N.O. Mardi Gras funding. It never hurts to research and ask how other cities handle the issue. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out they have a more plush city general fund.

Last year, I read about the beads causing flooding in N.O., the cost of cleanup, and the desire of some to consider a biodegradable bead. Let us know what you find out.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Charlotte, I have learned a few things about the celebration in Mobile, which has being going on every year for 316 years (lesser celebrations around the Civil War and WWII, but still, every year). As said previously, they do not and have never charged people to access the streets of the parade routes or historic downtown area (Bienville Square / Dauphine St.). They estimate a overall net value of $5 million per year to all elements of the city and businesses together. Sources of income for the city include the taxes gained from hotel, restaurant, and bar businesses, rental cars, airport fees and taxes, substantial permit fees paid by the marching societies (they parade ever day for 2 weeks, not just weekends) and even gain substantial income from the towing of illegally parked cars (fine is $250 with $75 going to the hook and the balance to the City). I think Galveston needs to do a thorough investigation of Mobile and New Orleans procedures and balance sheets for Mardi Gras and see if lessons can be learned. I am advised by a source with deep multigenerational roots in Mardi Gras in Mobile that a promoter arrangement like we are discussing here would never be tolerated by the old line families of the Mystic Societies that inhabit positions of public and private power there and he believes it is the same in New Orleans, having close connections there, as well.

javier hernandez

I don't see why it can't be treated like a regular weekend. It's hard to understand why it's necessary to spend tax money on attracting a bunch of drunks to Galveston historical area. The motorcycle group is another wild bunch that shouldn't be in the historic area. Just save the money and treat it like a normal weekend. If guys want to throw parties, direct them to a beach or fairgrounds.

George Croix

Psychiatrists could save a LOT of time when deciding mental capacity of subject by simply asking ONE question first.
"Is there such a thing as free money?"
Any answer other than 'no' gets the rubber room....[wink]

Wayne Holt

This fundamentally gets back to cost shifting and, of course, there is no such thing as free money or a free lunch. The only questions are 1) who pays for it; 2) do they know they are the ones paying for it; and 3) is it fair they are the ones to pay for it?

No matter how we think about it, it is just like a household. There is revenue coming in and expenditures going out. We have a choice in how we use the revenue coming in. If New Orleans thinks $7,000,000 just to clean up beads is fine--with the decay of infrastructure and resident needs they have--I would say George has probably just found his first rubber room inhabitants...absolutely insane.

It is just my opinion but I think a lot of these expenditures have reached levels that are unconscionable with what needs to be spent in an aging city like Galveston. Would people come to Galveston with more modest spectacles? Well, being just down the road from the fourth largest city in the US, with great beaches, fantastic restaurants, tons of interesting things to do and historic architecture that has almost disappeared in most of the US...yes, I would say we have plenty to offer without feeling the need to lock out local businesses from their customers, waive our laws for public decency and noise violations and spend money better used to improve the community instead of cleaning it up after it's trashed.

Charlotte O'rourke

Mardi Gras in both N.O. and Galveston is held not only for the tradition but for its economic impact.

There are expenses - budgeted and unforeseen/emergency - with any party event.

I think the beads contributing to flooding and blockage of storm drains in N.O. were an unforeseen/emergency expense and not an actual budgeted expense of regular Mardi Gras cleanup.

If partygoers pay and help alleviate expenses (forseen and unforeseen) one can understand why our city wants to charge an event fee. One can also understand some people not being happy about a charge.

The city should not be burdened with all event costs as has happened in the past. In some cites/states, extra police for an event can be paid via HOT funds.

The city should continue to hold discussions and continue to find ways to alleviate the burden of special events on its general fund, and determine which events are economically advantageous to Galveston.


Allen Flores

There are many better places for paid concerts and temporary vendors. The city should get out of the concert business and relocate the concerts. Fencing-in thousands of people to drink for 16 hours a day is a silly excuse to use for “safety reasons,” as the city is now saying to justify the $22 fee. The rumor is that the promoter collects about $2 million in various fees and gives the city about $120K. It’s a secret how much the promoter collects on public streets. There are many better places to charge admissions and setup temporary vendors. It’s worth a try in 2020.

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