Texas Reds the Hot Topic of Bryan's City Council

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The Texas Reds Steak and Grape Festival is eight months away. The soon-to-be annual festival will be the city of Bryan's attempt at a signature event, with the hopes of bringing thousands of out-of-towners and their dollars.

But there has been confusion and questions about the festival.

Bryan city staff spent half-an-hour in workshop Tuesday talking about the June 16 event that is fast approaching. More than $90,000 has been budgeted over the last two fiscal years by the city for their signature event. Broken down by year, $23,732 was budgeted in Fiscal Year 2006, and $67,000 was budgeted for 2007.

"The pressure's on," said Bryan Deputy City Manager Joey Dunn. "We gave the council A-to-Z information on the event, what it could do, what we hope it will do for Bryan."

The scheduled date for the event is June 16, 2007. The date was chosen because it was an open weekend for the wine industry to participate, there was no major event for hotels and motels to accomodate, and because there was summer vacation for students.

Activities will include wine tasting, a steak cookoff, activities for kids, as well as entertainment from The Bellamy Brothers and Bonnie Bishop.

At this point, event expenses are in the $135,000 range, meaning sponsors would have to make up the difference. Currently, six major sponsors have been found.

Texas A&M's Jim Petrick has studied events like Bryan's and says the city is on the right track so far.

"They've put a lot together," he said. "Their sponsorships would be the only area that they're behind, but eight months is a long time, so they should have time to put the full thing together."

Councilman Mike Southerland had a great deal of questions about Texas Reds in previous weeks, but said Tuesday's presentation answered his concerns, including the diversity of the event.

"They solidified it tonight," Southerland said. "I don't think it was really as crystal clear as it is right now. Not only that, but they've included all parts of the city."

That's including minorities like the Hispanic community. Organizers of the annual Fiestas Patrias event say they are in complete support of Texas Reds, and believe it will be a great boon to Bryan. However, the group believes they should receive more funding for their event as a result.

"The only thing I ask for is equality, for balance, and there's not balance in this," said Alma Villarreal, the president of the Fiestas Patrias event in Bryan.

In their last budget hearings, the city included $5,000 for Fiestas Patrias, that first time the event ever received money from Bryan. But city officials, by their definition, don't put the label of 'signature event' on Fiestas Patrias.

"I think they got a great deal this year, and it's as far as we can go until we work out how we're going to do those things next year," said Councilmember Mark Conlee.

A signature event, by city officials definition, is one that is organized by the city and unique in nature. Local examples include the Mushroom Festival in Madisonville and the Kolache Festival in Caldwell. The goal is to bring people from outside the community to spend their money.

The city conducted a survey of other communities of like size, and received 15 surveys in return. Of those, 14 had so-called signature events. Only four had Fiestas Patrias events, none of which were funded in any form by the surveyed city.

Something like Fiestas Patrias, officials say, fall into the same category of Independence Day events, one which is held in multiple communities, and while a valuable celebration, is not one unique to an area.

Bryan city officials have begun sending details to other communities like Austin and Houston, and will continue to advertise Texas Reds in the hopes of drawing a big crowd in the first year. However, according to Petrick, it could be four years before Bryan sees profit.

"If they can get word-of-mouth out in Year One, they can expect it to grow every single year after that," Petrick said.

In their presentation Tuesday, local officials cited the Madisonville Mushroom Festival, saying the first year, that event drew only 150 people. In their fourth year, there were more than 4,000 visitors, with more than two-thirds coming from outside the area. That fourth year was the first the festival made money.