At a white tablecloth gathering Tuesday in a ballroom downtown, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said a plan to lift pandemic restrictions for outdoor events in City-owned facilities is in the works and may take effect soon.
“I would expect that within the next several weeks – as we start to see the positive rate continue to maintain at that local level, and vaccinations go up – we’re going to start opening up outdoor events broadly without restrictions,” he said, adding the City would continue to maintain mask guidance as long as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises it.
A spokesperson for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District said the plan being referred to is still under development and would not be finalized until next week. No further details could be provided until then.
The luncheon Nirenberg spoke at Tuesday was hosted at the Grand Hyatt downtown by the San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association in conjunction with other hospitality industry partners across the city. It offered attendants a place to ask the mayor about issues affecting the industry.
Nirenberg’s indication that outdoor restrictions could be lifted came after Maggie Thompson, the director of the Visit San Antonio River Walk Division, asked when events could be hosted on the City-owned River Walk again.
The pandemic has battered River Walk tourism. Last year, the cancellation of River Walk events like the 2020 Ford Holiday River Parade devastated the former River Walk Association, prompting managers to furlough half of the 80-plus staff and reduce salaries for the remaining employees. This year it merged with Visit San Antonio.
Nirenberg also connected his answer about the transition plan to Fiesta, which he said he anticipated to be a “big party.”
He cautioned, “you’re probably not going to be elbow-to-elbow at places, but if people continue to do the basic things that their public health officials have been telling us all along – protect lives and contain this transmission – we’re going to be able to get back to those events.”
Earlier this year, the City of San Antonio and the Fiesta San Antonio Commission jointly announced the celebration’s delay into June due to pandemic concerns. The two parades that normally accompany it were canceled. Last year the festival was canceled in its entirety.
The City can’t determine safety measures at the celebration. The Fiesta San Antonio Commission engaged the services of a public health policy expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to help with planning.
Fiesta typically generates hundreds of millions of dollars in local spending.
The luncheon, which Nirenberg said was his first “in quite a long time,” also saw the mayor reassure hospitality industry leaders on a number of topics. He first answered questions from Scott Joslove, the president of the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, before fielding questions from the audience.
Nirenberg struck a generally optimistic note about the future of the hospitality industry in San Antonio, which was pounded by the pandemic as conventions were canceled and tourism tanked.
“I just want to encourage you to be optimistic about the future because it is certainly justified,” Nirenberg said.
He said the city had roughly 60 events and conventions booked for the Henry B. González Convention Center before September.
“I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to accommodate every single request, every single proposal that’s come our way,” he said, adding that restrictions for social distancing and mask requirements were in place depending on the venue.
Event cancellations have been catastrophic for the tourism industry. As of Wednesday, the city has lost 297 citywide and in-house meetings to cancellations at an estimated $475 million in lost economic impact, according to Visit San Antonio.
A timeline for lifting restrictions at indoor events at the Henry B. González Convention Center and other city venues will likely take place across a longer timeline, Nirenberg said, depending on metrics such as the vaccination rate, the COVID-19 test positivity rate, and stress on hospitals. Nirenberg said the level for herd immunity is expected to be reached around the beginning of the third quarter.