Will the RGV lose its biggest music festival?

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Ultimate Music Experience, the Rio Grande Valley’s largest music festival, might leave South Padre Island for Spring Break ‘17. The 6-year-old event that started as a single-day pool party and grew into a full-fledged festival is scheduled for March 15-18 next year.

But GlobalGroove Events owner and UME co-owner Paul Magee said owners of Schlitterbahn, which has hosted the event the past five years, rejected the music festival’s most recent proposal to host the 2017 event at the water park.

“At this point, a new proposal has been put before the owners,” Magee said.

The water park didn’t return a request for comment.

“A final decision has not been made yet,” said South Padre Island Interim City Manager Darla Jones earlier this week. “It’s still in discussion.”

Jones said it’s premature to make a comment about the future of the concert or what impact it would have on the city and water park if it didn’t continue to take place on the Island.

Meanwhile, UME is at a standstill. Owners can’t book artists without a venue, and the window is closing to reserve the world’s most popular DJs the event is known for, Magee said.

Other cities have gotten wind of the situation, and competing beach destinations are courting UME, according to Magee. He said he’s invested in the SPI community and hopes to keep UME there.

“The situation we find ourselves now is no venue and the best artists in the world knocking on our door,” Magee said.

Local stakeholders, including those from the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and city council, are working to try and secure a secondary location. But Magee said it wasn’t likely another SPI venue could house the event after considering alternatives.

Outdoor space at the convention center could provide a solution, but presents logistical challenges. Water park infrastructure, including the fenced perimeter and drained wave-pool dance floor, make the venue uniquely suited for the electronic dance party during SPI’s four busiest days.

Eduardo Peña, of security contractor International Protection Inc., said he heard rumors about the situation. If UME is unable to find a venue at SPI, the event’s exit for the city would likely shut down his business. He’s worked with Magee for about 15 years and said Spring Break pays the bills.

Peña has about 35 full-time employees, but a team of about 350 during peak season. As a permanent resident of South Padre Island, Peña said they depend on these types of events.

“Spring Break’s been viewed on the Island as a cash cow, like it’s always going to be there,” said Chad Hart, of Inertia Tours in San Marcos, who has spent last 21 years shipping college Spring Breakers to party places. “It’s definitely been taken for granted too much.”

His company packages airfare, condos, parties and meals, making trips as all-inclusive as possible, he said. Alcohol is not included.

“Spring Break used to be six weeks long,” Hart said. “For the Island, it’s condensed down to ten days … (and) we bring just about 3,500 students down in the month of March from all over the United States.”

It’s been attractive to solicit to the student market because they’re less deterred at the prospect of unpredictable weather, he said.

“The collegiate market is coming, no matter what,” Hart said, calling SPI the top Spring Break destination in the country. “It’s not like I bank on UME.”

Hart is more concerned about losing the “roll-off effect” gained from private promotion of the multi-million-dollar festival.

“It’s all about hype and publicity. That roll-off effect of that advertising is that people may or may not want to even go to an electronic music fest hear about South Padre Island,” Hart said. “That’s very powerful.”

“And it’s connected with world-class DJs.”

Past fests saw acts like Tiesto, Skrillex and Calvin Harris grace the stage. Marquee events like UME drive demand for lodging, squeezing the market, he said.

“In the hotel industry it’s called ‘compression.’ Room rates that are normally $399 will go to $499,” Hart said. “That’s what UME does such a great job with — they’re compressing the rates.”

As demand rises for the rooms, so do the prices. UME boasts only 15 percent of pre-sale tickets purchased are local. This doesn’t take into consideration purchases at the door, but it’s undeniable UME draws visitors, Hart said.

“It causes this kind of feeding frenzy around the Island for room,” he said. “The next place they call that actually has rooms, they’re probably going to book it.”

Valley Morning Star reporter Raul Garcia assisted with reporting on this story.