SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – Jimmy Hawkinson, general manager of Beach Park at Isla Blanca, thought long and hard about disregarding the rule about re-opening.
He had heard that another waterpark, Big Rivers Waterpark in New Caney, Texas, was getting ready to disobey Gov. Greg Abbott and re-open in time for the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day weekend.
“It is hard to go against what your government is asking you to do. But I also have responsibilities to rent, utilities, labor, insurance,” Hawkinson said.
“Then you have to think of the licenses we have with the state. We have to take into consideration that they could pull those licenses.”
Beach Park at Isla Blanca is a waterpark that was previously known as Schlitterbahn. Located on the beaches of South Padre Island, the 26-acre park offers premier water attractions, a year-round, full-service restaurant, and multiple meeting and banquet areas.”
In the end, unlike the Big Rivers Waterpark, Beach Park stayed closed for Memorial Day weekend. It was a tough decision to make, Hawkinson acknowledged, because the park’s survival depends on summertime customers.
“It isn’t just myself. It is multiple businesses around the state that rely on the summer travel. Memorial Day to Labor Day, we rely heavily on that traffic,” Hawkinson said.
“Those 100 days are critical for us to get the revenue we need for us to make it all the way to the next season again. It is critical we get open, even under constraints.”
Hawkinson said he is adhering to Centers for Disease Control guidelines and then some.
“We continue to clean everyday. It is a daily process. Our tables will not be six feet apart, they will be 10 to 12 feet apart. We recognize people bring their ice chests, their tubes. They stack those around the table. We are preparing more distance because we understand what our guests do.”
Lounge chairs, too, will be limited, Hawkinson said.
“We are gearing up for 25 percent occupancy. That’s 1,250 people.”
Hawkinson said it has been frustrating trying to get through to the task force Gov. Abbott set up to give advice on when the economy should be re-opened. He said the office of state Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville has been trying to get him an audience with the task force leadership.
“They told me to put my questions in writing, to mail them in. I have been told there are a lot of people in the queue. I thought someone would have reached out to me by now,” he said.
Hawkinson said the fact that Beach Park is spread over 26 acres, almost all of it outside, should count for something, especially as SPI’s beach is open.
“The island has been busy. We could have record numbers for May. There are a lot of businesses that are open. The hotels are at 89/90 percent occupancy,” Hawkinson said.
“But we are still closed. It is affecting us in a huge way.”
Hawkinson said he is certain his waterpark can open in a safe way and understands occupancy could be limited at first, with reviews occurring every two weeks based on the number of new coronavirus cases.
Asked what his message to Gov. Abbott would be, Hawkins said: “It would be nice to know when we are going to be allowed to open.”
Asked for wrap-up remarks, Hawkinson said: “Summer is here, it is a beautiful, beautiful day here today. It is hotter than normal. It is going to be really good water park weather. A lot of people want to get out. A lot of people don’t. I understand these people. But, there are other people who do want to get out. We should not put them down or make nasty comments. They want to open up the economy and get to as normal as we can.”
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