DALLAS—Residents of Fort Worth erupted in outrage when a cheerleading competition scheduled to take place at a convention center appeared as if it might displace, however briefly, people already reeling from catastrophic Winter Storm Uri.
By Thursday afternoon, it was unclear if that event was still taking place, with one city communications staffer telling The Daily Beast they were “told the entire event was canceled,” referring inquiries to another spokesperson. That spokesperson, in turn, said they were uncertain on the status of the event and that they were waiting to hear from the client and city officials on a decision.
By Thursday evening, following the publication of this story, the contest had disappeared from the roster.
As of Thursday morning, a schedule hosted by the hospitality industry of Fort Worth showed that a Spirit Celebration event, which aims to provide a “Disney-like atmosphere” for attending cheerleaders and coaches, was slated for Saturday and Sunday at the Fort Worth Convention Center. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram previously reported the Center would be available as a shelter until noon Thursday, only for a city spokesperson to tell The Daily Beast the Center was staying open to those in need Thursday evening.
A third city spokesperson indicated they understood the initially-scheduled Thursday closure to be connected to preparation for an event at the Convention Center, though they did not specify which one.
Either way, the city still intends to move people from the Center beginning Friday, spokesperson Kevin Neal told The Daily Beast.
“After breakfast on Friday morning, shelter operations will move to two other sites. Transportation will be provided as needed. Daytime warming stations continue to operate,” Neal said in an email.
Throughout the week, the Convention Center has been used as a shelter for people displaced by the winter storm that has been tied to dozens of deaths nationwide. The Star-Telegram reported Wednesday that 170 people slept in cots in the facility on Tuesday night alone.
How long people will need shelter is still unclear. Thousands are still without power and water across Texas. As of this writing, at least 35,000 are still without power in Tarrant County, where a boil water notice has been put in place due to power failures at water treatment centers.
A local mutual aid group, Funky Town Fridge—which provides free food in publicly accessible refrigerators—posted in outrage on Twitter late Wednesday that it appeared the cheerleading event was still scheduled to go ahead.
“#FortWorth update! The city is ready and willing to kick the unhoused & displaces population out into cold freezing temperatures tomorrow at 10:00 am for [Spirit Celebration’s] little Gymnastics competition”
A city media representative said over the phone early Thursday that the convention center was initially slated to close due to a “pre-contracted event” and cited that as one of the reasons for the planned move of those currently in the shelter on Friday. The movement of people in the center was described as an upgrade to superior facilities.
After this story was published, Mayor Betsy Price said in an emailed statement, “As the power is restored across the city and fewer people need warming stations, we will demobilize the Convention Center tomorrow (Feb. 19), and instead transport guests to smaller centers that are more appropriate for the number of people who need it.”
Meanwhile, the cheerleading event was still listed for Saturday and Sunday on the website run by the local hospitality industry as of midday, though emails and messages sent to Spirit Celebration were not immediately returned.
Amber O’Dell, a resident of Fort Worth, was disappointed in what she described as a lack of transparency from the city.
“When I spoke to Mayor [Betsy] Price’s office they said, ‘The event is not happening. Please tell your friends.’ But then I saw people saying that it’s only being postponed, so I feel like I was sort of misled,” O’Dell told the Daily Beast.
“I think it’s disgusting and they are obviously putting profits over the people in our community, as is Fort Worth tradition,” she said, adding, “Moving all these people again, in the cold seems, for a gymnastics competition is so absurd that it literally seems like parody. I can’t think of a more repulsive display of privilege and economic disparity. This is how social policy fails at the local level and is why we all have to get engaged in local politics.”