Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia's office said the historic pavilion at Sylvan Beach Park in La Porte will have minimal, if any, downtime over the summer as a new operator takes over pavilion management.
However, those who advocate for the park and pavilion are still unhappy with how the situation has played out and believe any gap in services could ultimately damage the pavilion, said Ted Powell, the president of Friends of Sylvan Beach Park.
"If the building is known to be vacant, that’s when it’s going to be vandalized," he said.
Scott Spiegel, press secretary for Garcia's office, said the county will issue a request for proposals for a new pavilion operator around March 1. Interested operators—including the existing operator, Party and Reception Center—will have 30 days to submit bids, Spiegel said.
"We are certainly are submitting our proposal," said Raj Shafaii, operator of Party and Reception Center. "We invested a lot of time and sweat and equity. We built this facility up so we certainly want to continue operating it.”
It will likely take Garcia's office 30 to 60 days to select the best operator for the job. The goal, Spiegel said, is to have a new operator in place by June 1 to begin booking events at the pavilion, which is a popular spot for wedding receptions, quinceaneras, dances and other events.
"It’ll be done as soon as possible," he said.
Spiegel said there could be a gap in service depending on when the new operator begins. Party and Reception Center's contract with the county will expire around June 13, but a new operator might not be in place until as late as July 1, Spiegel said.
"That two weeks [of downtime] could turn out to be months," Shafaii said.
As of now, no events can be booked at the pavilion, but all previously booked events up until June 1 will happen as scheduled, Spiegel said.
Shafaii said the county told him to not cancel any events, including ones booked after a potentially new operator will be in place. At that point, customers would be able to decide whether to work with the new operator or get their deposit back, Shafaii said.
Party and Reception Center's contract with Harris County to operate the pavilion expired in 2018, after which both parties went to a month-to-month lease. Late last year, Harris County commissioners voted to end the county's contract with the operator within six months, and Garcia said the county will put out a request for proposals for a new operator after several issues were found in the contract.
The standard lease between Harris County and leasees is the county receives 1% of gross revenue from county-leased facilities. However, in the county's lease with Party and Reception Center, the county receives 1% of pavilion rental fees only, Spiegel said.
"Overall, if the contract had been done as originally intended, with the 1% of gross revenue being accounted for, then it looks like they shorted the county by about ... $100,000,” he said.
Garcia's office is unsure how or why the county approved the contract as is. The contract was signed under a previous administration, but Garcia's office wants the contract corrected, which is why a request for proposals is being issued, Spiegel said.
Throughout the process of changing operators and contracts, the county will also make repairs to the pavilion. The county will install new air conditioning units, among other work, Spiegel said.
“People that love the historic Sylvan Beach pavilion as much I do should have no concerns," Garcia said. "My goal is to have a well-kept facility at a price that more can afford to use with no gaps in service. While an operator of the facility is being selected, we are quickly working to make the facility improvements to minimize disruptions, and so when we open up for new events, users can be happy to have had their event at the Sylvan Beach pavilion.”
Powell said several residents are "outraged" by how Precinct 2 has handled the pavilion issue. Powell and others helped restore and maintain the pavilion, and it never should have come to the point where the pavilion might not be open for weeks in the summer, he said.
"It feels good to know this time it’s not just a few people standing up and championing it,” Powell said.