More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic began, life in San Antonio is beginning to return to “something that feels familiar,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, observed that lately, people have returned to stroll the River Walk and fill the streets with more traffic. He joined the mayor at the chamber’s State of the City event Friday, presented virtually with the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

“I can tell you from my perch here downtown at our office which oversees the River Walk and I see traffic, and that is a good thing,” Perez said. “I see people, I see walking, I see activity again and I’m just so excited to see that once more.”

That activity translates to business for the area’s restaurants and other establishments, Nirenberg said. And he added that he has noticed people still wearing face masks, even after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate in March

“The message is, ‘Go live your life,’” Nirenberg said. “Enjoy the activities of the city, take some precautions like wearing a mask, and we can do this together.”

The rising number of vaccinated individuals in Bexar County also feels encouraging, Nirenberg said. More than 545,000 Bexar County residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Nirenberg talked about economic recovery efforts, the upcoming May elections, and his Committee on Emergency Preparedness, which he formed after freezing temperatures in February caused power and water outages across the San Antonio region. 

“Their work is ongoing and it really centers around two questions: What happened, and how do we make sure that we’re better prepared in the future? And so they are having weekly meetings and they’re collecting questions from the community that people want to have addressed,” Nirenberg said. 

Nirenberg is seeking a third term when San Antonians go to the polls during early voting leading up to the May 1 city elections. Also on the ballot is a charter amendment that would allow the City to allocate bond money to projects beyond “public works,” including affordable housing.

“Housing is infrastructure, and it’s part of our economic trajectory,” he said. “The charter amendment that is on the ballot allows the city to have more flexibility in how it chooses to use or how voters choose to use bond dollars. Currently San Antonio voters have the most restrictive bond language of any major city in Texas, meaning that voters have fewer choices, being able to be presented to them.”

The City plans to have its next bond election in May 2022. 

All in all, the past year has been challenging, Nirenberg said. But he highlighted some of the positive economic developments the city has seen: the NCAA Women’s Final Four, increased hotel occupancy rates, and the ability to distribute grants to more than 200 food and beverage businesses impacted by the pandemic since 2020. He predicted the summer will bring an upturn for San Antonio residents’ health and the economy.

“I talk to my peers in Texas almost on a daily basis, and their projections in terms of herd immunity are quite encouraging with regard to the vaccination process, and San Antonio is keeping up with its peers,” Nirenberg said. “We’ve been able to actually vaccinate our portion of the community as quickly as any city in the state.

“So we’re doing well, and I anticipate that the summer is going to see a very robust recovery economically when it comes to visitor traffic and the convention business.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.