South Padre officials hope Garth Brooks concert will reinvigorate economy

Tuesday, November 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) _ Country star Garth Brooks will give a free concert on South Padre Island, and city officials hope it will help draw needed visitors to the island hurt by a bridge collapse.

The Gulf Coast barrier island's resort economy has been at a crawl since a string of barges slammed into the only bridge to the island on Sept. 15. The midsection of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapsed. Eight motorists died when their vehicles plunged into the Laguna Madre. Travel to the island has been limited to ferry service established after the collapse.

The Nov. 28 concert is one of three CBS-televised stops on the ``Garth Brooks: Coast to Coast'' tour to promote Brooks' ninth album. Tickets quickly sold out to the first concert in Los Angeles on Wednesday. A Nov. 21 performance will air from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier at Norfolk, Va., to welcome soldiers back from a deployment in Afghanistan. Each concert will be broadcast as an hour-long 9 p.m. CST special on CBS.

With both coasts covered, Brooks was looking for a spot in Texas. Brooks' promoters contacted the island, South Padre Island Visitor and Convention Bureau spokeswoman Erica Pena said.

``They said he'd heard about what happened and that he wanted to do his part to help out,'' Pena said.

``It's just good news for us, to get that national exposure,'' Mayor Edmund Cyganiewicz said. ``It's uplifting for us in a time of tragedy, a shot in the arm for us and the entire Rio Grande Valley.''

Sales tax revenues dropped 16 percent for September, despite the two normal weeks of activity before the collapse. October's numbers are not available, but they are expected to be far more bleak. Groups _ including a national motorcycle convention _ canceled, as did families. Beaches have been empty. Thousands of waiters, hotel chambermaids and shop workers were laid off for lack of business.

The latest Small Business Association data shows that more than $3.5 million in loans went to some 60 businesses struggling because of the collapse.

Workers have toiled day and night to finish approximately $4 million in bridge repairs before the Dec. 23 target date. Texas Department of Transportation officials say the work is ahead of schedule.

The concert will call needed attention to the island just weeks before it is again fully operable, Cyganiewicz said.

Monday, it was still unclear how many fans would be accommodated at the outdoor concert site. It was also unclear how the likely throngs would get to the island from the mainland. Pedestrian ferries _ all but the largest are privately owned charter boats _ leave the mainland at Port Isabel every 12 minutes and are running smoothly, but there are hours-long waits to get on one of the three vehicle ferries.

Cyganiewicz said concert promoters may hire more ferries.