When was the last time you came downtown for the evening to watch fire eaters, sword swallowers, an aerialist, magicians, and someone walk across a bed of nails? The answer in a city without street theater: never. That’s changing Thursday night as Main Plaza plays host to what organizers at Geekdom have described as part circus, part freak show and part live music concert.
Call it a Big Party and almost surely a night to remember to celebrate the tech incubator/co-working space’s fourth birthday. You don’t have to be a Geekdom member or even a geek to attend. The event from 5:30-9 p.m. is free and open to the public. Geekdom and its sponsors want to send a message: The downtown tech scene is thriving, it’s growing, and people who work hard also play hard. And they want a downtown scene with a little more action.
The Geekdom leadership is inviting everyone who shares that view to show up. And it gets even better.
“The beer will be free,” said Zac Harris, Alamo Brewery‘s brand ambassador. “We will be there with 10 kegs, and we will stay as long as they last.”
There will be five food trucks parked on the plaza, but you’ll have to buy your own supper.
“No speeches, promise,” said Christian Torres, Geekdom’s community manager. “We want to make sure there are no mood killers. There will be a band and also a DJ. The fountains will be running and we’ll be lighting up the front of San Fernando Cathedral. If less than 1,000 people show up, we will not have done our jobs.”
Torres said Geekdom has more than a birthday to celebrate. Completion of the exterior and interior renovation of the historic Rand Building is finished. Weston Urban, founded by Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston, purchased the 103-year-old building from Frost Bank in 2013.
Geekdom occupies three upper floors of the eight-floor building, originally built to house Wolff and Marx, an early 20th century department store. The San Antonio Conservation Society worked to prevent Frost Bank from demolishing the building in the early 1980s.
Period tiles, high ceilings, restored elevators, exposed walls and open floor workspaces have given the building a new look that is both period and contemporary. The Rackspace Open Cloud Academy recently took over the fifth floor. The three floors below Geekdom will soon be occupied by a range of new tenants. The Rivard Report, located on the sixth floor and incubated at Geekdom in early 2012 when it was still located at the Weston Centre, will soon move to more spacious offices on the second floor. The street level space with newly installed floor to ceiling windows, will soon house a new restaurant and/or cafe and other retail.
“The Weston Urban’s project to breathe new life into the Rand is complete, the work is done, no more construction, so we think it’s time to have some fun,” Torres said. “The theme is the Freak Show.”
In fact, 1,200 people have already RSVP’d to the official invitation. Many of those attendees are members of Tech Bloc, the recently formed tech activism organization that has leaped into the fray of public policy and politics, flexing muscle and brainpower on issues ranging from rideshare to annexation. Tech Bloc has drawn the programmers away from their computer screens and into the realm of civic engagement. Put another way, it’s turning coders into voters.
There’s room for more at Main Plaza Thursday night, according to Torres.
“Seeing what Geekdom has done in four short years has been awesome,” said Nick Longo, Geekdom’s co-founder and the successful entrepreneur who founded CoffeeCup Software in Corpus Christi in the ’90s. “Having a place where entrepreneurs can meet and work with other like-minded people was a very new idea at the time that we just hoped would work. Hundreds of startups later and thousands of meetups and events later, that idea has become much more than anyone imagined.
“Geekdom is now the largest co-working space in Texas, and is the hub for emerging tech businesses in San Antonio,” Longo added. “One of the greatest things for me to see today is when people and businesses grow from it and expand like spokes in a wheel all over downtown and San Antonio. I can’t wait to see to what happens in the next few years. It’s going to be amazing to see how many more things come from Geekdom and how all those connections come together.”
Since Longo stepped down in 2013, Geekdom’s executive director and evangelist has been Lorenzo Gomez III, an early Racker who went on to become executive director of the 80/20 Foundation, Weston’s philanthropic enterprise. Gomez has become a fervent advocate for accelerated downtown development that fulfills former Mayor Julían Castro’s Decade of Downtown vision.
“Know that the rocket that is San Antonio’s urban development has taken off,” Gomez wrote on the Rivard Report in a March article, one of several he has authored. “Progress is indeed upon us and we are about to be the better version of ourselves. It’s our time.”
While Thursday is the Freak Show party in the Main Plaza, Geekdom will host a much quieter event Wednesday when Weston and Longo sit down with Gomez in Geekdom and before an audience of 150 Geekdom members-only, talk about how the idea for Geekdom developed and how that idea became a reality.