With $17,000 on the line, tonight's Gonzales city council meeting will likely have several speakers revved up in support of the “Hot Rods and Hatters” car show that looks to come here the first weekend in February. The Inquirer reached out to several people who have in-depth knowledge of the matter in order to paint a picture of what to expect should the deal happen.
With such an amount set to be spent at once — more than 50 percent of the city's special events fund — we thought it prudent to look at some numbers.
“I am committed to Gonzales,” said Joel Gammage, who is steering the effort to bring the car show downtown. “If Gonzales is able to come through with an amicable agreement, that's what we are doing.”
Currently, the car show resides in Lockhart and has for the past 7 years. Gammage said that he had offers to move it to other locations, such as the Circuit of the Americas race track near Austin, but refused because it did not mesh with the community mission he envisions. However, he said that this year he needs a new location in order to grow.
According to the Lockhart Post-Register on Nov. 29, Gammage had previously worked with the Lockhart City Council as recently as Nov. 20 to hammer out details for the upcoming show. In a four-hour meeting, officials agreed to $3,500 for shuttle service, $4,000 for stages, $2,593 for toilets and wash stations, $3,000 for marketing at the Baker Theater, and $4,000 for video/audio production and graphic design, and more.
The same is expected here. Gonzales will donate $27,635.98 in in-kind services, should council approve. Among the items are $500 on a press release issued by the City of Gonzales, $640 for announcing the car show on city utility bills, $1,000 for a TxDOT traffic plan, $1,480 for portable toilets and wash stations, $3,074.22 for the street department to set up barricades and assorted work, $7,360.19 for policing, and $11,133.68 to the parks and rec department for trash cans, cleanup, renting an ATV, and placing 16 pole banners.
Back in Lockhart, the decision on Gammage's $17,000 request for hotel/motel occupancy funds (HOT) was tabled until the Dec. 18.
Also to be considered at Lockhart's next meeting is a proposal to close downtown streets early on Friday, Feb. 1 for car show set up. That has become an issue because downtown merchants have a First Friday event that night that draws many customers, and they aren't so eager to relinquish their parking. The Lockhart council gave Gammage extra time to negotiate a deal with them. But, if Gonzales strikes first, the process is moot.
Lockhart Mayor Lew White told the Inquirer that both sides were being stubborn in the compromise and that talks were at a stalemate, and that had made Gammage look at other locations like Gonzales.
The mayor said that the car show had been a benefit to the downtown area and the city, and many businesses report the weekend as being one of their most successful of the year. He said that he was willing to work with Gammage and that they'd “put their best foot forward.” However, he thought it odd that the effort to relocate was being made so close to the event date. Over the years, the city had increased their financial support for the show, and predicted the same should it move to Gonzales. Regardless, White said that he did not want to lose it.
“Joel is looking for a better deal,” White said. “The ball is in his park.”
Gammage said that he is not playing each council.
“I have no intention of leveraging one city over the other,” Gammage said. “I respect both cities equally. This is purely a business move for us looking for additional growth.”
Gammage submitted his request for Gonzales HOT funds to the Gonzales Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) on Nov. 28, after the two-week deadline that is required before an official CVB meeting. The Gonzales CVB met and approved Gammage's request on Dec. 10.
CVB Director Clint Hille said that HOT funds are disbursed only after an event has occurred, once receipts are given to him by the event organizer. Then, he verifies that the expenses are allowable within the guidelines of the statutes and are accompanied with the proper documentation.
Hille said that this $17,000 would be a high-water mark for the car show, and that's in-line with CVB funding for other Gonzales legacy events. Gammage should not expect the same windfall next year, should he apply.
“I have set this expectation for him,” Hille said. “It's important that we treat all events the same.”
Gammage called his car show an investment with the city that hosts the event and put a price of $50,000 on that investment. He likes to look at it as a mutually beneficial arrangement between himself and the city that hosts them, bringing in a lot of economic activity that would otherwise not be. When asked if he would abide by what Hille said of not expecting the same HOT funds next year, Gammage said he couldn't predict the mindset of the council or CVB for the next year, and he'd rather prove himself to the city.
“I'm not prepared to say if we would ask for more or less [in 2020],” Gammage said. “I'd rather just leave that out because I really don't know.”
Hille helped to clarify guidelines that the CVB uses to determine funding.
“One of the guidelines in the state statutes says 'the intent of the program is to provide funding for an event to help promote and advertise events increasing hotel occupancy,'” Hille said. “Therefore, if an event is already using all hotel rooms, then there is no capacity to increase hotel occupancy. However, it also goes on to say 'continued funding in subsequent years of an event or tourism asset may be considered but should be in an amount commensurate with the anticipated return to the city in the form of HOT funds.' An example would be Come and Take It. They already maximize rooms which in that respect makes them ineligible for funding, however we all feel like we should continue to support them in some manner, therefore the board recommended $5,000 [in HOT funds last year] based on the anticipated return in HOT funds which was approved by Council.”
Should council approve the funding tonight, Hille and Gammage predict a financial benefit for the city and national coverage through some hot rod magazines. Visitors should expect live music and quality cars, well over 1,200 classics, hot rods, and rat rods. And Gammage looks to give back, as his “Hot Rods for Homes” helps to rebuild a house for a local family in need.
“If we get approval, I'll sign a contract with the city that night,” Gammage said. “We are ready for the move if Gonzales will have us.”