Questions swirl as Texas Relays kick off

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There are two central questions about the 87th annual Texas Relays this week that kicked off Wednesday at the University of Texas.

Will the predominately African-American spectators receive a warm welcome this year, and how will UT’s decision to sell beer and wine play out?

The relays are the second largest track event in the country. About 5,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators are expected through the weekend and it is anticipated they will pump some $8 million into the local economy.

With so many visitors, some residents and bar owners worry crime may spike downtown. In the past some businesses closed shop and boarded up for the event, although there is no statistical data to support those concerns.

As for the welcome the guests will receive, the city expects a warm welcome mat.

“I think everyone knows there have been some challenges in the past,” said City Manager Marc Ott. “But past is the operative word. I think it is in the past.”

Ott says the city has not heard of a single business closing this weekend.

“We embrace diversity but we do have some challenges in that regard in certain pockets of the city,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole. “The city is meeting that head-on with a welcoming atmosphere.”

As for the beer and wine sale experiments during UT sporting events, the university says everything has gone well so far at smaller events.

“We’ll have it in an enclosed area, a tent,” said UT Athletics Director Steve Patterson. “We expect everyone to act responsibly. We haven’t had any negative issues at the softball, baseball or basketball games.”

Patterson adds that if all goes well, beer and wine sales for UT football could be considered.

The Austin Urban Music Festival, an offshoot of the Texas Relays, will offer  music at Butler Park on Friday and Saturday, featuring rhythm and blues, soul and gospel music, and offering bands such as Morris Day and the Time, and Kool and the Gang.

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