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FESTIVAL City moves to draft Mardi Gras contract

May 22, 2019

After more than a month of searching, Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas may have found its new home.

The Beaumont City Council on Tuesday gave city staff direction to move forward in drafting a contract with the organization.

Talk of Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas moving from Port Arthur, where it’s been for nearly three decades, drew controversy in early April when organizers proposed relocating to Port Neches. About 100 residents attended a city council meeting on the issue, with more than a dozen opposing the idea.

Residents expressed concerns about parking, a possible parade route and how alcohol would be handled, eventually leading to the council voting against pursuing a relationship.

But the tone at the Beaumont council meeting was clearly different, with several council members vocally excited about the event and only one speaker against it.

“I think this (opportunity) fits us to a T and I think it would be a fun thing to embark on,” said council member Virginia Jordan.

Attendance at and revenue from Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas, which is used as a fundraiser for 14 area nonprofits, has dropped by about 25 percent in the past decade, organizers previously told The Enterprise. This prompted the board to authorize them to look for a new location.

Beaumont says it has experience with festivals even bigger than Mardi Gras, and some council members believe hosting the event is the next logical step in improving quality of life for residents.

Mardi Gras “did 11,000 last year over four days, we did 12,000 to 15,000 people over one day” during large events hosted in Beaumont, said city Event Facilities Director Lenny Caballero.

Caballero, the city manager, the mayor and other members of city staff have had two meetings with Mardi Gras organizers to chart out possibilities of how the parade, security and other operational issues will be handled.

Few details are set, but they will become more clear as the city draws up a contract with Mardi Gras organizers. The document would have to go before the council for approval before it is signed.

And while a few council members had questions, none of them seemed to balk at the idea.

“Across the Sabine River in Lake Charles, they have a parade that’s like two miles long that leaves the Civic Center and everybody shows up for,” said council member W.L. Pate. “We’ve got two miles of road. Matter of fact, we’ve got 753 miles.”

In a letter submitted to the council, Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas requested use of the Great Lawn, Downtown Event Centre, Event Centre parking lots, Beaumont Civic Center and its parking lot, various city streets that would need to be closed for parade routes, the Jefferson Theatre and the Julie Rogers Theatre.

Council member Robin Mouton expressed concerns about the majority of Mardi Gras benefiting nonprofits being located in Port Arthur, as well as the potential for increased crime.

Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas President Laura Childress said they’re open to including more local nonprofits, and noted work the organization does in the Beaumont area. She also said the event is geared to be family-friendly and, as a result, it hasn’t been very “eventful” when it comes to crime.

“Safety is our priority. We want people to have a safe, good time and do things in moderation,” she said. “We have people that get out of hand a little bit, but officers are there to take care of them if we need it.”

Council member Mike Getz asked Childress how Port Arthur feels about the event moving, and to address talk he’d heard in the community regarding outstanding bills left unresolved between the event and the city.

Childress said she feels Port Arthur has a lot on its plate as far as new expansions are concerned. She also said the city recently gave Mardi Gras a bill for “an amount they have come up with that they feel like is a back bill,” but assured council members Mardi Gras would pay any “legitimate” invoices.

Interim Port Arthur City Manager Becky Underhill previously said that the outstanding amount hadn’t become a problem between the city and the organization.

The next Mardi Gras is planned for Feb. 20-23, 2020.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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