Mardi Gras in Port Neches?: MGSET mulls move in hopes of more attendance

Dwindling attendance has Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas looking to Port Neches as a new site.

Representatives of MGSET will be at an upcoming meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday at Port Neches City Hall to speak with the council and answer questions.

Tim Romero, president of the MGSET board, said they have been watching attendance numbers for a number of years and have seen a trend downward. This trend did not reverse itself when ticket prices were lowered and different entertainment was brought in.

“Port Neches (Riverfront) Park offers a lot of things you can’t get in downtown Port Arthur. It’s a centralized location and attendance can be drawn from Port Arthur, Fannett and even from across the river in Orange County. We would be able to grow our attendance to where it was in the heyday,” Romero said. “This is a financial decision and was not taken lightly. It’s a bittersweet moment for us. We’ve enjoyed our stay in Port Arthur.”

The move is not a done deal, Port Neches Mayor Glenn Johnson said.

“This is strictly a discussion item,” Johnson said. “And we’ll take whatever time we need to get the questions answered and get a good feel on how the citizens feel.”

Johnson said the representatives of MGSET asked if they could visit, make a presentation and allow citizens to ask questions.

“The bottom line is the council works for the citizens of Port Neches and whatever the citizens of Port Neches want, we’ll do,” he said.

Tammy Kotzur, executive director of the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there hasn’t been an economic impact analysis performed since 2012 and has not seen attendance numbers from this year yet. But she knows that weather plays a big role in attendance. In the past there have been as many as 950 hotel room nights tallied and as few as 680. She does not have information from this year and last year following Hurricane Harvey because it is difficult to determine if the hotel stays were from Mardi Gras attendance or Harvey.

But if the event were to shift to Port Neches then the hotel stays would likely not change — Port Neches does not have any hotels.

Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas just concluded its 27th year in the city of Port Arthur. The event is different than other festivals that are run by chambers of commerce or cities. MGSET began with 19 nonprofit groups in 1992 that were asked to put up $5,000 seed money for the original festival. The founders wanted to use downtown Port Arthur to make sure the people of the city could see the parade, attend a great festival with lots of color, music, food, spirits and fun, and it was family oriented, Romero said.

But if you travel to New Orleans for Mardi Gras you won’t see a cardinal outside the gates, he added, saying if you want to get in certain clubs in New Orleans you’ll pay a pretty penny.

Mardi Gras in Port Arthur has had “plenty of security and great entertainment” which comes at a cost.
“At the end of the day after we paid all of the expenses and have enough to start the next year we would give back to the original sponsoring organizations a dividend,” Romero said.

This past year there were 15 sponsoring organizations and MGSET is a major fundraiser for them, so when the receipts start to dwindle they do not get as big of a dividend as before.

Romero said the organization is trying to make sure Mardi Gras doesn’t go away and believes the event’s future lies in a place where they can draw better attendance.

“Port Neches has been very up front with how much they think they can make it work in their city,” he said.

Should the matter proceed and MGSET moves to Port Neches it would have a different feel to it.

Romero said he is ready for the naysayers who will be critical because the event is leaving Port Arthur.

“But it’s not a Port Arthur Mardi Gras. We always said it was Mardi Gras Southeast Texas and the location is in Port Arthur,” he said. “We wanted to have a festival for the whole of Southeast Texas. It’s something we haven’t’ approached lightly. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision that we are not thinking through. We have every confidence it is in the best interest of Mardi Gras.”

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