Fee for Mardi Gras irks some businesses, visitors

March 1, 2011 3:23:27 PM PST
Mardi Gras celebrations are in full swing down in Galveston, but if you are heading to the island you had better bring some extra cash. Organizers are once again charging an entrance fee for the big event.

Businesses along The Strand wait all year to cash in on Mardi Gras. This year, some Strand businesses worry the cash spent at the gate is not being spent in their businesses.

"Yes there is a down side to having a gate. We do lose a lot of money as far as people coming in and spending money. Instead we get a crowd that's going to come in and walk around and not spend money here," said Steven Segura of the Mediterranean Chef.

For the first time in four years, parts of The Strand were barricaded with a admission cost of $10 to $15 to get in, depending on whether you paid in advance. It's a deliberate choice by this year's promoter.

"As a free street festival, the crowd had gotten quite seedy and we felt like charging like any amusement or entertainment facility would; it would upgrade the event," said Mike Dean of Yaga's Entertainment, Inc.

Dean's company added several new events within the barricaded area, including the addition of eight new parades and several entertainment acts. Authorities say the entrance fee made a big difference.

"Really the biggest difference was the security measures. We had officers at the gates with metal detectors and that made the event safe, I believe," said Lt. George Trevino of the Galveston Police Department.

Merchants don't argue the event was safer this year. Arrests were down 50 percent with no reports of violent crime, but some question if spending $15 at the gate is worth it.

"I think after you pay that, then come in and buy food and drinks, it adds up to a lot of money -- especially if you have more than two people in your family," said visitor Linda Bishara.

"I've been to Mardi Gras in the past and there's a lot of people just here to get drunk, and they're not really here for Mardi Gras," said visitor Debi Mezistrano-Boer.

People did tell us that having the barricades did make the event safer.