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