Soapbox derby enthusiasts and Main Street shopkeepers turned out at the Marble Falls City Council’s regular meeting January 21 to voice their support for or frustration with the annual Marble Falls Soapbox Classic.
The agenda item, however, was not over whether or not the event will take place. It was to divvy out funding as recommended by the Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Committee. Councilors voted unanimously to approve the funding recommendations for the National Adult Soapbox Derby Association for $10,000 of a requested $15,000.
Citizen comments, however, ran hot.
Main Street store owners voiced concerns that the event, which in past years has run from the intersection of Third and Main in downtown Marble Falls, blocks parking and access to shops, hurting business throughout the three-day event.
“The first year I built that store, I walked out my door when they were setting up the soapbox derby, and I walked right straight into the back into a lemonade stand,” said Steve Parsons, co-owner of Choccolattes on Third Street. “That ticked me off. That kind of set my precedent for not being overly supportive of it. It does hurt our business; it does. “
Belinda Kelley, owner of Main Street Consignments, told the council she pays $4,000 a month to unlock her doors, and the event costs her a weekend.
“I’m not against the derby,” Kelley said. “This is called the Hill Country. Move it to another hill.”
But Shannon Heep of the NASDA, and a derby organizer, said the event has been and always should be part of revitalizing the downtown and that its location downtown is paramount. She was frustrated to receive a list of different hills to race on in coming years, she said during the Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Committee meeting on January 16.
“We’re not here to race in someone else’s neighborhood,” Heep said. “We’re here to revitalize downtown. We just happen to do it by racing.”
Supporters of the Soapbox Classic told the council during the January 21 meeting that the permitting process has become too difficult and strained. Heep said she even considered making the 10th annual derby in 2019 the last.
“The main reason was our frustration with the city permitting process, that was the reason the soapbox derby was being put to a close,” Heep said. “You can imagine if we were all going to give up and throw our hands up in the air — and we are some die-hard derby fans — that it was pretty bad.”
Heep approached Mayor John Packer following the 2019 event and requested assistance with the derby to help prevent future permitting troubles the event had faced in past years.
“We asked for two things,” Heep said. “We asked for a written-down event policy that we can follow, so we can do it every year and do it well without any surprises or drama, and we asked for it to be fair across the board.”
That new event policy has yet to materialize, however.
“We are running behind on our promo materials,” Heep said during the January 16 HOT committee meeting. The date for the 2020 event has not been released. “We are running behind on our sponsors. I have politely asked numerous times: ‘Can I get a glance at the policy? Can you tell me what’s ahead of me?’ We don’t want to sign a contract without seeing what we’re looking at.”
City Manager Mike Hodge confirmed that the event policy would be up for consideration at the City Council’s February 4 meeting.
“I think it’s a good event,” Hodge said. “I just need everyone to be collaborative and want to be a part of the solution and be open to the other side’s perspective. What I like at both the City Council meeting last night and the HOT committee meeting, we made it very clear that the event promotors have got to come in and work with those that are impacted and affected.”
Other Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Committee recommendations that were fulfilled at last night’s meeting included the Texas Tournament Zone’s bass fishing tournament for $2,500 and the Marble Falls Rodeo Association for $20,000.