Roving Reporter | "ACND Adds Fee to Gated Events on Festival Grounds, Increasing Lease Costs" by Jeanette Larson

Seafair 2016. Image used with permission.

At their June 19, 2017 meeting the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) Commissioners voted to change the fee structure for use of the Rockport Beach Festival Grounds for gated events. Rather than charging a daily fee, based on the number of days, and which days of the week, the grounds would be used, a $1.00 fee will be charged per paid entry to the event.

According to Chairman, Malcolm Dieckow, the changes were prompted by a review of the district’s leasing policy. The commissioners realized that "the costs to maintain the festival grounds were more than were being earned by the leasing fees." Rather than increasing the daily fees overall for all users, the ACND is seeking to increase revenue from two highly attended gated events: Rockport Arts Festival (put on by the Rockport Center for the Arts, a non-profit 501(c)(3)) and Seafair (put on by the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit 501(c)(6)). Dieckow stated, during a phone interview, that he believes this is a “fair way of doing it” and that the increased revenue will allow the ACND to improve the festival grounds. Dieckow also said he'd be happy to hear other suggestions for increasing revenue.

Image via Rockport Center for the Arts

The first event that will be affected by the new fee is Seafair, sponsored by the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce, to be held October 12-17, 2017. Because they are the first to be affected and will be bringing their lease request to the ACND soon, Dieckow spoke with the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce prior to the meeting. The Rockport Center for the Arts’ Art Festival won’t be affected until July 2018 and, therefore, Dieckow said, their staff was not personally contacted in advance of the ACND meeting. 

Luis Purón, Executive Director, Rockport Center of the Arts, said that he receives agendas from all local government entities and "was aware of the agenda item" but was unable to attend the meeting. Diane Probst, President & CEO of the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce said that while Dieckow had made her aware of the need for changes and a potential "up charge" on tickets, she did not realize that the changes would be decided at the June 19th meeting. She also was unable to attend the meeting.

Probst questioned the openness of the process and noted that the item was placed on the agenda after the time for questions from the press and following a Closed Session. While the Commission reconvenes following a Closed Session, many in the audience do not remain for the continuation of the open meeting. Harbor Master Keith Barrett explained that the item was placed on the agenda to allow for consultation with the ACND's attorney in Closed Session and was then reported out in open session. Attendees were notified prior to the Closed Session that they could remain for the public discussion and action on the policy changes.

According to Dieckow, ACND anticipates that rental fees from Seafair would increase from approximately $1,500 to $15,000 (based on 15,000 paid admissions). Dieckow said it is the ACND's assumption that the $1.00 fee will be added to the ticket price, saving money for the organizations by passing the rental costs on to attendees. The Center for the Arts uses the grounds for several weeks setting up for Art Festival and attracts about 10,000 attendees. If paid attendance is lower, the ACND makes less. Other events such as the Nautical Flea Market are not held on the Festival Grounds and are not currently affected by changes. Although held on the grounds, Market Days and the BASTANTE John Uhr Memorial Billfish Tournament either don't charge admission fees to attendees, or "use just a small part of the grounds," according to Barrett.

Because Rockport Center for the Arts is preparing for the upcoming Art Festival (June 30-July 2, 2017) and Art Gala, the two largest events on their calendar, Purón has not been able to review the new leasing policy or consider how the changes will be implemented for their events.  Diane Probst imagines several logistical challenges in these changes. She noted that they currently sell Seafair wristbands, allowing for multiple admissions, as well as daily tickets, which are currently not numbered. The 12,000 attendance reported in 2016 includes many repeat visitors, as well as non-paying visitors who have entered one or more of the competitions. The increased cost could be added to pricing as an up charge from the ACND. Additionally, there will be a need for more cash on hand for change if admission fees change from $10 to $11. The same may not be an issue for the Rockport Art Festival, which charges $8 for a single day and $10 for two days. Probst said they "don't like it, but can handle it" and will see if it affects their attendance.

Jeanette Larson is a retired librarian and author. She and her husband, retired architect and artist Jim Larson, moved to Rockport several years ago for the birds, the beach, and the coastal community.

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