Bootfest attendance drops after Harvey

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Dec. 27, 2017 at 9:36 p.m.
Updated Dec. 28, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Kynlei Canchola, 8, picks up her sister Zariah, 2, who is frightened by Calise Domingue, wearing a T-Rex in boots costume.

Kynlei Canchola, 8, picks up her sister Zariah, 2, who is frightened by Calise Domingue, wearing a T-Rex in boots costume.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Bootfest 2017 saw a drop in attendance, but was otherwise successful despite being held just more than a month after Hurricane Harvey, city officials said.

The hurricane wreaked havoc on businesses, homes and infrastructure across town, causing the city to question whether the event should occur in the first place, officials said.

But they decided the show must go on.

"A month after the hurricane, could people use a nice weekend of free entertainment?" said city spokesman O.C. Garza.

Despite the officials' post-hurricane woes, Victoria's largest free festival was a success - particularly for businesses that sell food and merchandise, Garza said. Meanwhile, there weren't any public safety issues during the entire festival, which came about a week after the deadly shooting in Las Vegas.

"We had a very, very safe event like we've always had," Garza said.

But like always, Bootfest didn't make any money.

The festival is paid for by a 7-percent tax on hotel stays, which by law must be used to promote tourism and increase overnight stays at hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. Local governments can't use that tax revenue for other city projects such as building roads or filling potholes.

In the past, the City Council gave Bootfest $100,000 in hotel tax revenue each year, but decided against giving the festival more money this year. Instead, the festival relies on a special reserve account, which is made up of leftover cash from previous allocations to the festival.

This year, the seventh annual festival lost about $64,000, a shortfall that will be absorbed by the reserve account. After using the fund to cover this year's cost, there's about $196,000 left in the reserve account - enough to cover two to three more festivals in the future, said Joel Novosad, director of Explore Victoria Texas.

Novosad said the festival cost about $248,000, at least $85,000 of which was spent on local businesses such as shuttle providers and tent rental companies.

Additionally, each vendor who set up shop raked in an estimated $2,500 to $5,000 if selling food or $1,000 to $2,500 if selling merchandise during the festival, he said.

The festival made about $184,000, of which about $108,000 came from beer and margarita sales.

"We did have what we consider a very successful Bootfest again," Novosad said.

However, there were some big challenges that came with hosting the festival just weeks after the hurricane.

Throughout the two-day festival, an estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people crowded into the downtown area - down from an estimated 23,000 to 26,000 the year before, according to city data.

A shortage of hotels rooms was also a problem for out-of-town visitors. Hurricane Harvey shut down 500 rooms, of which 300 are currently reopened, said the city's spokesman.

In the weeks immediately after Harvey, the hotels that were available were filled with construction and government workers, Garza said. Without available rooms, some people who planned to go to Bootfest - such as players on softball teams - weren't able to.

"When you have that much demand, the rates are also higher," said Garza.

Last year, 60 teams competed in the softball tournament, he said. But only 14 teams were able to find hotel rooms this year.

Next year, however, the number of hotel rooms should return to normal, he said.

The remaining 200 hotel rooms that are still shut down should reopen in January, as city officials again start planning for the eighth annual Bootfest.

Officials are gearing up to find sponsors to help pay for the free festival. Garza said it's one of the few events in Victoria that's accessible to all socioeconomic groups.

"You can literally go and enjoy the festival like anybody and not really have to spend a dime," Garza said.


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