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EDITORIAL — Mardi Gras: Painful if it were to pass away

Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas’ search for a new home ought to rattle Port Arthur people, if for nothing more than for the change in tradition.

The four-day, downtown Port Arthur event has been one of the few entertainment staples there for more than a quarter century, since the first downtown Mardi Gras here was celebrated in 1993. Back then, 18 churches, civic organizations and other non-profits ponied up with $5,000 each, investing in what has been the joyous celebration of the onset of Lent.

Those who invested in Mardi Gras prospered, sharing profits of what has been a major, family-oriented celebration with these admirable goals from the start: promoting interaction among diverse populations in Port Arthur, promoting racial harmony in this city and providing economic development in a portion of the city that needed it.

Sadly, affection for Mardi Gras in Port Arthur has waned in recent years, with attendance dropping from days when crowds were measured in the 100,000 range — at least in those early years. Nowadays, Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas’ leadership said, crowds are much reduced, and MSGT profits have been pared back since independent retail peddlers began siphoning off some business, setting up shop on the periphery of the downtown, ticketed Mardi Gras area, and selling goods at lower prices.

MGST organizers sought some protection from the independent merchants, asking the City Council for establishment of a festival zone around the ticketed area where independent merchants could not peddle their wares. Councilmembers never responded to their request.

That’s why MGST is shopping their event around. Talks with Port Neches about moving the event there did not come to a deal; Port Neches people said they feared too much traffic and crime. More recent talks with Beaumont had drawn more interest.

In truth, Mardi Gras has been well-policed since the outset and crime has been negligible. What’s been said about the incidence of crime downtown is more violent than the actual occurrence of crime there.

At least one Beaumont councilmember asked MGST leaders about crime; Beaumont and Port Arthur have crime rates about the same. The MGST leaders have been diligent in hiring robust numbers of police officers.

We’d love to see Mardi Gras prosper in Port Arthur or elsewhere in the Mid County area. We’d love to see it thrive anywhere in the southern part of the county. If it cannot thrive here, we’d love to see it thrive elsewhere, if that’s what keeps Mardi Gras alive and well in the region.

But if Mardi Gras fades from the scene here, it would be very difficult to revive it later. Organizers did yeoman work in establishing Mardi Gras in Southeast Texas; it would be painful if it were to pass away.

 

See also: Mardi Gras, Port Neches talks fail