The Festival That Has Been Shaping San Antonio for 125 years

By Bernardo Pegas

In 1891, a group of ladies decorated horse-drawn carriages, paraded in front of the Alamo, and pelted each other with flower blossoms. Little did they know, 118 years later, Fiesta San Antonio would be one of the largest and greatest festivals in America. The festival has a tremendous impact in the San Antonio community, it can be call as one of the biggest charities events in the nation.  Eleven days, 108 events, 101 local nonprofit member organizations, up to 3.5 million attending, $284 million economic impact. This is the modern day Fiesta San Antonio, considered by many to be one of two great American celebrations behind Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

John Melleky, CFRE, has been the Commission’s CEO since January 2012. He argued in an interview to San Antonio Woman Organization that what makes Fiesta unique is that over 100 nonprofit organizations run events over a period of 11 days all over the city and keep all the proceeds from those events. They pay a small fee to the Commission, but they keep all the rest. Then the money goes back into the community through their own programs (scholarships, historic preservation, social services, etc.) It’s the only festival like it in the world.

During Fiesta 2007, the Fiesta San Antonio Commission hired an outside contractor to conduct an economic impact study. The results were collected, and the information showed that Fiesta San Antonio generated an impact of some $284 million for the local economy. That figure included money that participants spent on event admission, food, souvenirs and more. It also includes purchases in San Antonio on the way to or from Fiesta events. For example, a family coming from out of town might stay in a hotel, rent a car, eat at restaurants and visit other local attractions. The study also showed that San Antonio receives about $4 million in city sales tax because of Fiesta.

Every official Fiesta event that takes place during Fiesta each April is sponsored by a local nonprofit or military organization. Fiesta never ends because those groups are giving back to their neighbors throughout the year. Many of the Fiesta Commission’s 100 participating member organizations give scholarships to local students. Additional nonprofit groups raise funds through selling parade street chair sales. More than 100 small local nonprofits—scout troops, church groups, civic clubs, etc.—raise thousands of dollars each year by selling chairs along the route of the two major street parades. By selling tickets to both parades, these organizations combined earn more than $600,000 each year. The commission also supports other local nonprofit groups like Scout troops, PTAs, civic clubs and others through parade street chair sales.

As Fiesta has grown over time, it has embraced the various cultures of San Antonio and the country. Festivals are meant to gather a community to celebrate and learn about history, community, social interaction, traditional values, and social change . Fiesta truly represents all these components and adds more to the San Antonio community than any other event. Its impact helps shape the city economically and culturally.

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