After a seven-year hiatus, the Mardi Gras celebration is making its way back to Waxahachie, on Feb. 22.

The Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association, or WDMA, will be the leading hosts this year.

Wayne Strickland, owner of the College Street Pub, used to organize the Mardi Gras celebration. He and Cindy Wheeler, previous owner of the Creole Cafe, became partners toward the creation of this celebration.

“We began the celebration 16 years ago, I guess ... it was a partnership,” Strickland said. “The basic premise was that January, Februrary were very slow months in a restaurant business.”

The goal was to bring people downtown with the celebration. Since the event was self-funded, they had to raise money to be able to host it.

“We would just kinda throw the thing together; every year, it seemed to gain a little momentum,” Strickland said. “Folks really liked the idea of putting together a clunky kind of cool float.”

After hosting the event for 10 years, they ran out of steam to keep it going, and it didn’t help that there wasn’t another entity willing to get involved, Strickland said.

“We just kinda let it go,” he said.

With the Mardi Gras event returning, Strickland is a part of the committee that is planning the celebration.

 

The new hosts

Last year, WDMA voiced that they wanted to host more events downtown.

So, Strickland spoke to then-vice president of WDMA, Amber Caverly, and shared his thoughts on reviving the Mardi Gras celebration.

“She felt like it was a good idea, and the association supported the idea,” Strickland said, “so we started to put the thing together.”

WDMA is leading the event, from the organization side of things.

“We thought it was a great opportunity for the community to come downtown and see what it has to offer,” Caverly said. “With the new Railyard Park, it gives us an opportunity to do a soft opening.”

Director of Downtown Development Anita Simpson is hoping for residents to come out and enjoy the event. Downtown has gone through a long process, in which they have been remodeling the space and atmosphere for the community.

“And downtown has changed, even in the past five years ... we had 12 downtown restaurants and two boutiques, and now we have a dozen boutiques and over 20 restaurants,” Simpson shared.

According to Simpson, after the first of the year, there aren’t many celebrations downtown compared to the holiday season in December. Since downtown now has a consistent flow of visitors, Simpson said, she hopes that Mardi Gras will keep them coming.

“Mardi Gras is a great, fun, colorful, musical (celebration) ... it’s a whole lot of fun and you can do a lot with it,” Simpson said.

In 2010, the population of Waxahachie was 30,152. Now, the population is 39,090, with an increase of almost 10,000 people.

Simpson hopes the population increase will positively affect the outcome of people attending.

The Waxahachie Convention & Visitors Bureau has also helped WDMA plan the celebration. The CVB "is a tourism organization under the auspices of the City of Waxahachie charged with marketing Waxahachie in the state of Texas and beyond as a year-round business, sports and leisure destination, thus strengthening the city’s economy,” according to its website.

CVB is opening the doors of the new amphitheater in Railyard Park for live entertainment.

“With the construction of the new amphitheater, which falls under the CVB, they felt like it was a good opportunity," Strickland said.

Additionally, they are providing funding for advertising and Mardi Gras beads.

“This year we’ve gotten great cooperation from the CVB, the city, the rotary club and downtown merchants,” Caverly said.

 

Parade, sponsored by the Rotary Club

The Waxahachie Rotary Club will be sponsoring the Mardi Gras parade. For the club, this event is an opportunity to raise funds.

“For years and years we used to sponsor a bike ride ... but it's gotten more dangerous and there are lots more bike rides,” John Hamilton, a Rotary Club member,  said. “We had to cancel the bike ride, which was our major fundraiser.”

Around the same time the club was looking for fundraising opportunities, the merchants association was wanting to have more events. However, the association couldn’t host them alone, because they still had to tend to their own stores.

“So we had a meeting with them and decided that in some cases the rotary club could provide the manning for downtown events,” Hamilton said.

To participate in the parade, there is a fee of $25 per person. To take part in sponsoring with the Rotary Club, the fee is $100. Sponsors will receive one parade entry, beads, DJ mentions, a logo on the banner and additional advertising.

The money that isn’t used for parade expenses will be used toward the club's scholarship project. This project allows the Rotary Club to fund scholarships to high school and college students at Navarro College. Every year, the club puts $20,000 to $25,000 toward the project, rewarding 20 scholarships a year. They also give away one four-year scholarship, in which the student receives $1,000 per year.

 

What to expect

Downtown will be decorated in celebration and ready for the weekend of Friday, Feb. 21, to kick off the Mardi Gras event.

The pub crawl will be a free pre-gaming event that will include restaurants and bars in the downtown area.

According to Strickland, “each location is just being requested to kinda come up with their own menu ideas ... New Orleans themed type of deal.”

On Saturday, WDMA will be sponsoring the "Mardi Gras Beads & Beer Sip N’ Stroll" event from 2 to 6 p.m. To participate, people will need to buy tickets at the Ellis County Museum. They will be given a wristband, a map and a glass. The map will help guide them to locations that will be giving out samples of beer. Beads will be included with purchase.

Also from 2 to 6 p.m., WDMA will be hosting a New Orleans DJ, Diggy Dutch.

The parade will begin at 3 p.m. in the downtown area. Those that have paid an entrance fee or become a sponsor will participate.

From 6 to 8 p.m., CVB will have live music from Keyun and the Zydeco Masters, located in Railyard Park on 455 S. College St.

For information on how to sponsor the parade or be a participant in the event, go to https://waxahachierotary.org/. For more information on the weekend celebration, visit https://downtownwaxahachie.com/.