Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, July 19, took two votes related to the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce’s request to use the ACND festival site and other ACND properties for the 2021 Rockport Seafair.
With a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved closing Chamber Street (between the festival grounds and the Texas Maritime Museum), but not Laurel Street (between the festival grounds and Little Bay), leading up to and during Seafair. Commissioner Tommy Moore cast the dissenting vote.
In separate action, Commissioners unanimously approved charging the Chamber 10% of its gate as the fee to use the grounds.
(Note: Discussions about how to charge organizations for gated events at the festival grounds began prior to Hurricane Harvey. After the storm, the district agreed to charge the Chamber, as well as the Rockport Center for the Arts, a set fee in order to keep things as they had been as the community recovered. The ACND is now focused on charging per ticket, or a percentage of the gate.)
Chamber President/CEO Diane Probst outlined discussions held with ACND officials in recent weeks regarding the proposed changes, and the reasons given for those changes.
The reasons given for not allowing the closure of Laurel is planned construction on dual ticket booths at the entrance to Rockport Beach during the time Seafair is held, and the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) desire to not have traffic backed up on Business SH 35.
Due to the construction, the carnival could not be held in its usual place (between the Bay Education Center and the entrance to the beach).
Probst asked if construction could be delayed.
“If we can’t close Laurel Street, everything has to be pushed onto the festival grounds,” said Probst.
She noted that will have a negative affect on water entertainment, the car show, and the crab races.
Probst noted ACND Harbor Master Keith Barrett suggested closing Chamber Street instead of Laurel.
“We could move the carnival to Chamber Street, but the carnival (operator will have to look into the logistics of doing so),” said Probst.
She said the Chamber was charged $1,500 for use of the festival grounds after Harvey, and was charged $4,500 last year.
The ACND initially proposed charging $1 per paying customer.
Probst said charging 10% of the gate is much easier, due to gate personnel being volunteers, and accounting issues.
“What you lease is four acres of festival grounds, and all ACND grounds (in the area are used),” said Barrett.
He also noted TxDOT is putting pressure on the ACND to keep Laurel open during festivals.
“We’ve just outgrown this area (for big festivals),” said Barrett. “We’re trying to put 10 pounds of stuff in a five pound space.”
He also said fishermen and the bait stands don’t like the large festivals.
Commissioner Judy Vlasek supported the idea of closing Chamber Street, versus Laurel.
“We like festival weekends, but we are starting to have issues,” she said.
ACND Chairman Malcolm Dieckow asked Probst how much 10% of the take would be.
Probst estimated between $7,000 and $8,000.
Moore said closing Laurel will really put a dent in Seafair’s operations (entertainers’ buses park behind the stage, water events, etc.).
“October isn’t a busy time (for the beach),” he said.
“Let’s see what TxDOT says,” said Barrett.
Commissioner Tony Dominguez said, “The Chamber brings a lot of people to town. They don’t help ordinary people. It’s a toss up to me.”
Commissioner Mickey Casterline said he has never been in favor of closing Laurel for festivals.
He said he was one of the original people working on the Art Festival, and he doesn’t think the Art Festival should be held on the July 4 weekend, noting it is now big enough not to be held that weekend.
“If you close Laurel (for one group) you have to close it for everyone,” said Dominguez.
Dieckow said the ACND values and understands the positive impact of festivals, but added, “We’re not growing any more land.”
He also said this year is different due to the planned construction at the entrance to Rockport Beach.
“If 10% (of the gate) works for (the Chamber as the fee), I have no problem,” said Dieckow.
Whatever commissioners want to do with Laurel is up to you.”
He asked Probst at what time Laurel needed to be closed.
She said, “We need to secure the ground by Thursday (the week of Seafair).
Barrett said, “Then you will need to be here at 5 a.m. (to let fishermen in).”
Moore made the motion to close Laurel and closely monitor the situation this year.
“These changes are a game changer (for the Chamber),” he said.
Moore’s motion died for the lack of second.
Vlasek then made the motion to not close Laurel, but close Chamber Street.
It was seconded and approved 4-1 with Moore casting the dissenting vote.
Moore made the motion to charge the Chamber 10% of its take at the gate. Dieckow seconded the motion and it carried unanimously.
“We’ll figure something out,” Moore told Chamber officials in attendance.
Dieckow asked ACND staff to talk to TxDOT officials to see what else might be done.
“Y’all don’t hear my phone blowing up (when the traffic backs up and fishermen can’t get to the boat ramp),” said Barrett.
Moore asked, “Are we going to change the name to Dirtfair?”