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Annual Galveston sandcastle competition cancelled amid financial conflicts

The cancellation of next year’s sandcastle competition was announced last week, and the institute said Galveston’s park board is interested in imposing fees on the crowd-drawing event.

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AIA Houston

An annual Galveston sandcastle competition that draws in thousands of visitors every year was abruptly cancelled days ago amid financial conflicts between the host and some of the island’s top event and financial planners.

American Institute of Architects Houston made that announcement in a social media post last week after saying the Galveston Park Board of Trustees demanded the institute begin paying the city hefty fees to host the event.

“For the first time, the Galveston Parks Board is demanding a substantial payment from us in order to continue the event,” Rusty Bienvenue, executive director of the institute said in a statement. “They have determined that the millions of dollars in revenue for the city generated by our event bringing so many people to the island is not sufficient and want to charge us an amount each year that is equal to about one-third of the expenses in a typical year. We see this demand as not only unfair but outrageous given the 37-year history of our event.”

Galveston’s park board is funded through a portion of the island’s hotel occupancy tax revenues and beach parking fees and grants.

The financial demands imposed by the parks board mean there is no longer a return on investment, making the event not cost-effective, he said.

“Additionally, over the last 3 years, event expenses have ballooned by roughly 30% causing us to be underwater for each of the last three events- meaning our expenses were higher than our net,” he said.

And with additional fees to keep the sandcastle competition going, the institute will only lose money, he said.

“Their demand pushes the event expenses to a point to a point where the event is no longer economically feasible to put on,” Bienvenue said.

In response, the park board said that fees were requested to offset charges associated with holding the event that has only continued to grow over the past 37 years.

“In August, following three years' discussion of a potential fee structure, the Park Board requested a $4,295 contribution after rebate to offset the expenses to stage the event,” according to the board.

Last year, costs in security, traffic control, sand, logistics, staffing, litter, supplies, equipment and more totaled almost $40,000, they said.

“This low-cost fee acknowledges the visitation and economic impact that the event has brought to Galveston,” according to the board.

A longtime island tradition, the AIA Houston sandcastle competition is a fundraising event and a top revenue-generating event for the city of Galveston, according to the association. Each year, around 40 teams vie for the prestigious Gold Bucket Award.

On the day of the event, teams line East Beach at 6:30 a.m. to begin their meticulously crafted sand structures in hopes of being titled “winner.”

Now the fate of the annual event is up in the air after the association moved to cancel next year’s sandcastle competition. They have not yet said if they plan to move the event to a new location.

“The Galveston Park Board of Trustees is disappointed that the American Institute of Architecture Houston Chapter has decided to sunset their annual fundraiser event and sandcastle competition in Galveston,” the board said in a Facebook post Saturday.

The parks board offered the nonprofit $9,500 in business development dollars from hotel occupancy taxes to support the event for next year.