This article has been updated.
Legacy Park teemed with hundreds of techies and urban professionals Thursday night, as Tech Bloc’s “Reboot Rally” attracted what was likely the largest professional gathering downtown since the pandemic began more than a year ago.
The crowd, many of whom held ice cream bars, beers, and barbecue from nearby stands, networked while in the distance, performers on stilts wearing robot suits took selfies with attendees.
David Heard, the CEO of Tech Bloc, an advocacy group for the local tech sector, told the gathered crowd that they were there to “fully reopen the tech district,” as well as to celebrate the launching of a new website meant to “sell and showcase the district to the world.”
Bexar County funded the website – which includes an interactive 3D map showing restaurants, businesses, and other amenities – with $50,000 out of its annual $1 million revolving fund intended to encourage tech ventures in the city.
The tech district, a cluster of tech ventures around Houston Street downtown, is home to enterprises such as Geekdom and CodeUp, as well as new arrivals like SkipCart, a delivery app. San Antonio developers Weston Urban and GrayStreet Partners are luring tech companies with high-speed internet, common lounges, ping-pong tables, and bicycle storage rooms.
Heard called the district an “urban tech neighborhood” that “helps us sell San Antonio as a great place to build a tech career and grow a startup.”
More than 2,000 registered for the downtown event Thursday night, organizers said, and a final tally the day after counted at least 1,284 attendees. Visitors could filter in and out of the park without checking in.
Downtown developer and Rackspace Technology co-founder Graham Weston, who also founded Weston Urban, said he had been “dreaming of this day for a decade.” He described a letter he received 10 years ago from a fellow Rackspace founder who wrote that he would not move his business to San Antonio because it had no startup scene, no urban park, and no software development scene.
“And I can say about all three of those things – we have them now,” he said, prompting applause.
Other speakers included San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation Chair Randy Smith, University of Texas of San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
The “Reboot Rally” was Tech Bloc’s eighth rally since its founding in May 2015. The trade association’s initial event sought to build support for rideshare companies Uber and Lyft to return to San Antonio.
Since then, rallies have been held on an annual basis as a kind of tech industry mixer and networking event. Headlining speakers have included Robert Hammond, the founder of the High Line in New York City, and Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari and was a video gaming industry pioneer. Last year’s event was held online due to the pandemic.
One attendee, Terrance Fontenette, a district manager at charter school chain Jubilee Academies, said that while he’s long been a fan of Tech Bloc’s rallies, this one was different because he relished the opportunity to meet people face to face for the first time in months.
“Now I can actually hand them a physical business card,” he said.
No masks were in sight at the outdoor event. As of Thursday, 42.9% of Bexar County residents are fully vaccinated. More than half have been vaccinated with at least one dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent still recommends unvaccinated people wear masks in outdoor crowds. Vaccinated Americans have been told that they no longer need to wear a mask.
On Thursday, the weekly coronavirus positivity rate was 1.3%, a risk level that public health experts consider low.
The event, originally scheduled for May 20 but delayed because of weather concerns, was sponsored by Weston Urban, USAA, Centro San Antonio, Rackspace Technology, the 80/20 Foundation, Alamo Angels, Capital Factory, Codeup, Geekdom, Giles Design Bureau, Jungle Disk, OCI Group, Port San Antonio, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, Scaleworks, SecureLogix, Texas Research & Technology Foundation, and VelocityTX.
Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation and USAA are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business and nonprofit members, click here.