Smooth Operator

Associate editor Katy Vine on Houston businessman Tilman Fertitta and his impact on Galveston's tourism revival.

texasmonthly.com: Tilman Fertitta has been making waves in a few communities along the Gulf Coast for a couple of years. Why do a story on him now?

Katy Vine: I wanted to write a story in which something was at stake, and Galveston’s recent mayoral election offered a context in which I could write about Fertitta—but also write a sort of postcard from Galveston.

texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on this story?

KV: I worked on this for about two months.

texasmonthly.com: Was Fertitta anything like you were expecting? Why or why not?

KV: I wasn’t prepared for his accessibility or his frankness. He didn’t get upset over some of the tough questions and had a real take-it-or-leave-it attitude. He’s also funny, even in stressful situations. He’d be talking quite heatedly on his cell phone, then he’d hang up and two seconds later he’d be cracking a joke.

texasmonthly.com: Through your observations, did you get the feeling that Fertittaville is inevitable? Why or why not?

KV: I think people in Galveston are grateful to have Fertitta’s properties on the Island. But nobody’s vision for the Island is fated. Galveston isn’t that different from the country as a whole: Residents want one interest group in power for a while, then they want another in power for a while.

texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this piece?

KV: One man said that he lived in Galveston because it was at “the end of I-45.” I loved that. And I heard a rumor about a man who had never been across the causeway.

texasmonthly.com: Do you think Galveston will offer gambling in the next five years? Why or why not?

KV: That will depend on the Legislature.

texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story?

KV: Whenever somebody would explain and interpret Galveston’s power dynamics, the Island’s long history kept rearing its head. So I had a lot of catching up to do.

texasmonthly.com: Do you think Fertitta is trying to turn Galveston—and other Gulf Coast cities in Texas for that matter—into a miniature Atlantic City?

KV: I don’t know if he has any intentions like that, but I do think he believes in what he’s doing and he thinks that he will help the towns in which he invests.

texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?

KV: Galveston is an incredibly interesting island. I wish every place I visited had the personality, history, and mythic qualities that it has.

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