Editor’s note: The updated Tricentennial website re-launch did not occur Monday morning. Tricentennial officials said the updated site is scheduled to go live Monday evening. 

City Council’s approval last week of a $12.6 million redevelopment package for La Villita and the news that three of San Antonio’s leading chef-owners will open venues there deepens a broader commitment to make downtown a magnet for locals.

It won’t happen by 2018, San Antonio’s 300th anniversary, but within a few years the redevelopment of Hemisfair, an Alamo Plaza redesign done right, the reactivation of La Villita, and the completion of San Pedro Creek all promise to help restore San Antonio’s downtown as a place for locals rather than just conventioneers and tourists.

Taken together, these transformative projects reflect the kind of vision and action that should define the meaning of the Tricentennial. Plans to open new restaurants in the city’s historic center by Chef Johnny Hernandez of Grupo La Gloria, Chef Steve McHugh of Cured, and Chef Elizabeth Johnson of Pharm Table (and a former instructor at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus), can be summed up in a single word: authenticity.

It’s an element missing from too much of the Tricentennial Commission’s planning to date. As efforts to regain public confidence in the programming for 2018 take shape under Carlos Contreras, the assistant city manager and Tricentennial Commission interim CEO, all involved should examine those plans and put each element to the authenticity test.

We should start with the more than 700 events in 2018 that Contreras cited last week as part of the Tricentennial calendar. Too many events that have nothing to do with the city’s 300th anniversary are currently listed as Tricentennial activities. That is not to disparage their value or to dismiss the enthusiasm of their organizers, but why lard the Tricentennial calendar with activities that are unrelated to the historic commemoration?

Dozens of these events have been occurring for years and are not based on the city’s history. The Valero Alamo Bowl? The San Antonio Auto and Truck Show? The Martin Luther King March? Countless other familiar events like these are now being presented as Tricentennial fare.

If everything that happens in the course of 2018 is a Tricentennial event, then what distinguishes the occasion?

Journalists and other Tricentennial watchers will rise early Monday morning to test-drive the commission’s new website in search of important news and information that is already months late reaching the market.

Understandably, Contreras and his team do not want to answer for the prior administration under then-CEO Edward Benavides, whose mismanagement cost him his job. They hardly have enough time to look forward.

Like it or not, however, those in the city who care about the quality and depth of our 300th year celebrations and commemorations next year expect the new leadership to fix what is broken – and fix it fast.

We are 15 days away from the kickoff party. What follows the kickoff over the course of 2018 is what really matters, and the only practical way to communicate what is planned is through the website. How else will people from around the country and world learn about San Antonio’s Tricentennial? How else will people get the information they need to plan their visits and join in the celebrations?

Most people in my generation won’t lose sleep over the musical acts booked for the New Year’s Eve Party in Hemisfair’s Civic Park. Headliners REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar undoubtedly will draw big crowds and deliver strong performances. There will be an epic fireworks show. Yet many people were astonished to learn that such generic outside acts were booked at significant expense rather than the best available musical talent rooted in San Antonio, South Texas, Mexico, and even Spain. Yes, locals such as Flaco Jiménez and Little Joe y La Famila now are part of the program, but they are not the main acts.

For some time now, I’ve planned on reviewing the calendar to offer readers a curated “Do Not Miss” list with dates and details of events such as the opening of Confluence Park on Jan. 17, and the May 5 opening of Phase 1 of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the latter inexplicably missing on the Events page of the website that is about to disappear.

See for yourself what the current Events Calendar has to offer. “How Often Do You Participate in a Once-in-300 Years Event?” that page asks the visitor. Unfortunately, dozens of the 125 listed events are long-established annual events, not once-in-300 years events. They don’t meet the authenticity test and will only obscure the real events commemorating the city’s 300th year.

Strangely, missing from the Events page is the May 1-6 Heritage Week schedule. Legacy Day, May 5, is the single most important day of the Tricentennial year. To see events for that week viewers must return to the home page and click on Programs, which offers a skin-and-bones summary of Heritage Week. There is zero information to help people reserve tickets or learn more.

Legacy Day during Commemorative Week as listed by the San Antonio Tricentennial website.
Legacy Day during Commemorative Week as listed by the San Antonio Tricentennial website. Credit: sanantonio300.org

The Rivard Report asked KGB Texas Communications, the agency that won the Tricentennial marketing contract, for the full calendar of events, but executives there were unable to obtain that information from Tricentennial Commission staff by deadline.

Let’s take a second look Monday and see if the new website offers a more authentic overview of San Antonio’s Tricentennial year, one that will excite locals and attract visitors.

San Antonio deserves nothing less.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.