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Several days ago, a commentary appeared in the Rivard Report that posed and attempted to answer the question, “What defines the San Antonio brand?” It is a great question. It’s also a question that will more than likely elicit a different response depending on whom you ask.
A lifelong San Antonian might say Fiesta because of its historic roots, cultural significance, and unique standing as a community-wide celebration. An unabashed and passionate fan of San Antonio’s NBA franchise would no doubt proudly shout, “the Spurs,” followed by the “Go Spurs Go!” chant. A visitor to San Antonio, or for that matter, many residents, might point to the Alamo and the River Walk.
Are these people making assumptions? Perhaps. Are they being myopic? I do not think so. After all, Fiesta, the Spurs, the Alamo, and the River Walk are woven into the fabric of our community. They are incredibly important community assets that help create the identity of our city. Do they really define the brand of San Antonio? I may disagree, but I certainly do not begrudge others their opinions or beliefs.
I happen to passionately believe that downtown is what defines the San Antonio brand. I also happen to be the person who made this statement that the author of the Rivard Report article quoted.
As the President and CEO of Centro San Antonio, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize people and resources to create a vibrant and prosperous downtown that benefits the entire community, I am without doubt very focused on downtown. Centro exists to be strategic partners with the public and private sector to make downtown a great place to live, work, and visit (for local residents and those from out-of-town).
We do this not because we are myopic, but because we believe that great cities have great downtowns, and that a strong urban core is critical to the sustainable growth and success of any city. San Antonio is on the cusp of becoming the next great American city, and what happens in our downtown will go a long way in determining whether we can get there or not.
Today, we have incredible momentum in our downtown. Thanks to the citizens of San Antonio, over $200 million from the City’s $850 million bond program, overwhelmingly approved by voters on May 6, will be invested in transformational projects that will elevate downtown as a safe, inviting destination. Local, national, and international private investors are pouring billions of capital dollars into commercial, residential, and hospitality developments in the urban core. The health and tech sectors are growing dramatically, and companies from a variety of industries are moving back downtown.
Due in part to these efforts, San Antonio continues to receive high rankings in national surveys as an up-and-coming place to live and work.
Locally, we have heard from the community that they want to see continued investment in downtown to make it a more vibrant, 24/7 destination. Using phone and online surveys and small focus groups as part of our downtown brand identity work, we have learned that many residents agree with our premise that great cities have great downtowns and that downtown can define the brand of a city, good or bad.
If the Spurs someday have a bad season (hard to imagine), it will be painful for all of us, but will not damage the brand of San Antonio. That’s because we believe in our hometown team. They are a source of great pride – win or lose. If the perception of downtown as a clean, safe, and vibrant place were to change, if companies were to exit the core, if our historic and cultural amenities were to deteriorate due to neglect or lack of investment, San Antonio’s brand would change in the eyes of the outside world.
You do not have to take my word for it. There are great minds that have studied the evolution of cities for generations and the impact that the urban core has had on those evolutions.
There’s one important lesson we did learn in our local research. San Antonians are not okay with being okay. They want a great city and a great downtown. We are committed to doing everything we possibly can to make it happen and strengthen the brand of San Antonio.