Tricentennial Commission's Chief Operatin Officer Asia Ciaravino welcomes the crowd. Photo by Scott Ball.
Tricentennial Commission Chief Operations Officer Asia Ciaravino welcomes the crowd during the commission's brand unveiling. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

After only 18 months as chief operating officer for the Tricentennial Commission, Asia Ciaravino resigned from the organization that is planning and promoting the massive, yearlong celebration in 2018.

“San Antonio is an incredible city and it was an honor to serve our city as we prepare to celebrate our 300th birthday,” Ciaravino stated in a text to the Rivard Report on Friday. “I look forward to new and exciting adventures ahead.”

Tricentennial CEO Edward Benavides confirmed that Ciaravino is “no longer part of the Tricentennial Office,” but that she was “well wished in her future opportunities.”

Neither Ciaravino nor Benavides would provide an explanation for her abrupt departure or say if she was forced to resign. Benavides is the former chief of staff to City Manager Sheryl Sculley and continues as a city employee to report to her, but the City also did not publicly announce the leadership change.

Ciaravino’s unexplained exit comes seven months before the Tricentennial’s kick-off event, a New Year’s Eve celebration in Hemisfair’s under-construction Civic Park. The City-owned event is traditionally produced by the San Antonio Parks Foundation.

Two different sources said tensions between the City and Park Foundation staff over the City’s takeover of the annual party, which represents a significant fundraising opportunity for the foundation, is linked in the resignation.

Still, no substantive information was forthcoming from City or Tricentennial officials.

“It starts in 226 days left but who’s counting?” Benavides quipped.

Some of the specifics for the special commemorative week May 1-6, 2018 and other dates are still being finalized. The week will include days focusing on reflection, history and education, the city founders, the arts, San Antonio’s legacy, and military appreciation.

“The Commission has a lot of work to do,” Benavides said.

Ciaravino was in charge of several events, including planned international art exchanges. Special Projects Manager Tonya Baum, who works for the Center City Development and Operations Department, will take over that aspect of the former COO’s responsibilities, Benavides said. The Department of Arts and Culture Director Debbie Racca-Sittre will oversee other events.

Tricentennial to Produce Milestone New Year’s Eve Party

Thousands gather for Carlton Zeus performance at the Hemisfair Park main stage on South Alamo Street for New Year's Eve on December 31, 2016.
Thousands gather for Carlton Zeus’ performance at the Hemisfair Park main stage on South Alamo Street for New Year’s Eve on December 31, 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Celebrate San Antonio, the downtown New Year’s Eve party that features iconic fireworks at the Tower of the Americas, has been contracted out by the City to the Parks Foundation for 19 years.

This year, however, the City authorized the Tricentennial Commission to take over the event and produce it on a greater scale, which could include a celebrity-driven stage program and party that attracts a larger audience. The latter goal will be a major challenge with Hemisfair and so much of downtown disrupted by major construction projects.

Construction will be temporarily halted at the eight-acre Civic Park, and portions of adjacent Alamo and Market streets will be closed to vehicle traffic for the opening event. A New Year’s Eve ball will be featured inside the Hilton Hotel, Benavides said.

“New Year’s Eve is a one-time thing,” he said. “We want to have maximum media exposure from all outlets.”

KSAT-TV, the local ABC affiliate, is the official media partner of the Tricentennial along with Univision. That has given it an edge over its broadcast competitors for this and all other Tricentennial events.

“We’re inviting all media to be there … we’re in discussions with national media outlets,” Benavides said.

The New Year’s Eve party is one of the budget-strapped Parks Foundation’s most important annual fundraisers, according to Foundation President and CEO Mary Jane Verette, who served on the board for five years before assuming her new position in April. “This would have been a big one.”

Verette said she was disappointed in the City’s decision, but she understands it.

“It affects our bottom line … but it’s a reality and we want to be a team player,” she said.

WOAI-TV, the local NBC Television affiliate owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group, has had an exclusive contract to produce a live broadcast of the year-ending celebration tor nearly two decades. It provided the service for free.

Depending on the weather and crowd size, the event produced as little as $12,000 in a “bad year” to $70,000 in a “good year,” board Chair April Ancira, of Ancira Auto Group, told the Rivard Report.

“That’s a dramatic fluctuation, but it really just depends on the crowd that gets out,” Ancira said. “We anticipated this being a pretty big year because it’s the Tricentennial … we figured more people would come out even it is raining and sleeting.”

Foundation leaders were expecting to clear $60,000 or more, all of which would be used to supplement public park funding.

From park improvements to expanding San Antonio’s green spaces, the foundation works closely with the City to fill gaps unmet in the City budget.

“We got pushed to the back a little,” Ancira said. “It makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to develop an image of San Antonio” nationally and internationally.

Benavides agreed to try to find funding to “make the parks foundation whole” when the two met earlier this year, Ancira said, but funding for the Tricentennial events has been a major issue to date, and no firm agreement is in place.

Sources within the City and the downtown private sector have been critical of the Tricentennial project, saying that planning should have begun years ago, that funding is inadequate, and that the calendar of events is underwhelming.

Benavides would not commit to making up the lost park foundation funding when reached Friday by the Rivard Report.  “That is something that’s going to have to be evaluated by the City …. as part of [its] due diligence.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...