PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Mardi Gras Southeast Texas has been held in Port Arthur since its start 27 years ago, but organizers say over the last 10 years they've seen a decline in attendance. They're considering relocating to Port Neches Park next year. The board will present a proposal to Port Neches City Council Thursday.
Chairman of the board for Mardi Gras Southeast Texas, Tim Romero, says the founders of Mardi Gras started with a vision to have a festival for all of southeast Texas. He said they felt logistically Port Arthur was the best place at the time.
"We've been very successful in Port Arthur, but over the last 10 years or so our receipts, our attendance, is starting to trend downward and our board has become very very concerned with this trend," Romero said.
Romero said he's not sure why people haven't been coming to Mardi Gras. The past year even with lower ticket prices and good weather both Friday and Saturday the numbers still showed a downward trend.
Romero said if something isn't done to promote growth at Mardi Gras sometime soon, the festival won't survive in southeast Texas. They feel the more centralized location at Port Neches Park will bring in more people and make Mardi Gras more accessible.
"It's strictly a financial move, we're looking at it as what we need to do for our future to maintain the festival, to grow it and to continue it," Romero said.
Romero said Mardi Gras here is a different type of festival than what you'd get in New Orleans. In Southeast Texas Mardi Gras is a family fun and family secure festival. Romero said Port Neches Park could support everything people have come to expect at Mardi Gras.
"Parades are still going to be there, they're still going to be just as long as we've ever had them, our vendors are going to be there, we're going to have great food, bands," said Romero.
Romero said they've met with all of the proper people in Port Neches, and have found no problems with parking, the parade route or the park itself. He said they hope to go forward together in the coming years to improve the facility and make it even better for future generations.
However, not everyone is hoping for the move. Tammy Kotzur with the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau said it's the biggest event they have, and they would hate to see it leave the city.
Kenny Tims moved his contracting business to Procter Street in Port Arthur about 10 years ago to try and help it grow. He said moving Mardi Gras to Port Neches would be a mistake.
"This area here really needs something that's going to continue to grow and grab the people that are trying to stay here," said Tims.
Tims said Port Arthur has been struggling to grow for years now, and taking Mardi Gras away would do a great deal of harm.
"That particular area is already growing, has been, the concern is this area, the growth is just not enough growth over here," said Romero.
He feels there are many reasons why people haven't been attending Mardi Gras.
"One is because of weather, two is because of finances, not having enough work for the local people," said Tims.
Tims would like to see the board work with the city to come up with solutions to improve Mardi Gras in Port Arthur before finalizing the decision to move, but Romero said it's not a decision they made lightly.
"This has been years in the making, discussing with our board and just the right set of circumstances came together at the right moment for us to take the step, and we're excited about it," said Romero.
However, Romero admits the move would be bittersweet. Members of the board have experienced the festival in Port Arthur, but they know a change has to take place in order to survive.
The move is not definite yet. Romero said Port Neches City Council will have to approve it and create an ordinance for them to be able to fence in the area, but he's confident that Port Neches wants them there as much as they would like to be there.
They'll present a proposal to Port Neches City Council Thursday, and answer any questions they may have.