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Chants of “Viva Fiesta!” have faded from 2020. Fiesta, San Antonio’s spring festival that had been postponed to November as coronavirus first began to spread across the U.S., is canceled.
The Fiesta Commission made the announcement on Friday afternoon, as the city continued to see a steep rise in coronavirus cases and a hospital system overwhelmed by infected patients needing critical care. This will be the first year without Fiesta since World War II.
“In alignment with public health directives from the governor, Bexar County, and City of San Antonio,” planning has suspended for its intended Nov. 5-15 festival this year, the commission said in a statement. Fiesta is slated to return to its regular spring slot April 15-25, 2021.
Commission President Baltazar Walter Serna said he fully supports the decision by elected officials to “suspend Fiesta 2020,” citing health and safety as the commission’s main priority.
But the impact the cancellation will have on the community will be steep, Serna said.
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“[Three-hundred] nonprofits and countless vendors depend on Fiesta for a big part of their annual income, and the economic impact is significant for our city that has already been hit hard,” he said. “We owe it to the community to make the decision carefully, and with the City’s help, we did. Unfortunately, the pandemic creates an inability to perform the hundreds of contracts that make Fiesta happen.”
Originally scheduled to run April 16-26, Fiesta was postponed March 13 when Mayor Ron Nirenberg banned gatherings of 500 or more people, making 2020 one of only three times the annual event was not held in spring.
The festival calendar was reworked for a planned November event, and the commission created Fiesta From Home programming, including a do-it-yourself River Parade. but as local coronavirus cases spiked, planned events leading up to the main festival, including Gartenfest at Beethoven Maennerchor, were suffering cancellations.
The Conservation Society of San Antonio produces A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA) for four nights during Fiesta. NIOSA is regularly attended by tens of thousands of partygoers who annually flood downtown’s Maverick Square and La Villita.
In planning for every possible contingency, Conservation Society President Patti Zaiontz said in the event of a Fiesta cancellation by the city, the society might consider a “Plan Z,” which would involve rebranding the festival as independent from Fiesta and moving to a non-City owned site.
Zaiontz could not immediately be reached for comment following the Fiesta Commission announcement.
Of the possibility of a modified NIOSA festival and other such events, Serna said, “If it can be done safely, then it’s something that we probably would endorse. … I think you have a lot of groups that are going to explore all those possibilities. But it’s got to be a ‘wait and see.'”
Fiesta is frequently referred to as “the party with a purpose,” calling attention to the $340 million it generates for the local economy and nonprofit organizations. The festival supports nearly 3,500 full-time-equivalent jobs, according to its own estimate.
Nirenberg earlier this week alluded to a coming announcement on the festival’s status.
“I think that folks who have been watching the course of this pandemic, over the last month or so, have viewed this as an inevitability,” Nirenberg said about the cancellation of Fiesta on Friday. “Obviously, it’s not easy for us because Fiesta is not just a party; there are a lot of nonprofits and community organizations that depend on the support that they get during Fiesta.
“Fiesta is also a city-wide morale booster, something San Antonio could use right now,” Nirenberg said.
But City and Fiesta officials are aware of the danger of having such an event right now. What’s best now is focusing on getting the city healthy ahead of Fiesta 2021, he said.
“I’m still optimistic that the medical system is really responding to this globally and that we will likely have a therapy and/or a vaccine, probably both, by the time [decisions about Fiesta 2021] are being made,” Nirenberg said.
Serna put the cancellation of Fiesta 2020 in a much wider context. “Who would ever have imagined that there was no way that you could go see a basketball game or go to a football game? Or go to a concert? Or even just go to a bar and have a drink? I mean, no one ever anticipated that, and so this is all new to us. It has had widespread effects on everybody in this community and across the nation and the world. And so it’s all part of what everyone’s having to deal with.”
Reporter Lindsey Carnett contributed to this article.