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Centro San Antonio Restructures For Downtown Revitalization Push

Murali Subramaniam
Only two people at the Centro San Antonio luncheon said they attended the Diwali Festival of Lights downtown last weekend.

During a luncheon Monday at the Westin Riverwalk to talk about the new structure of Centro San Antonio, Inc., a startling revelation swept across the crowd of about 200 downtown stakeholders.

"How many of you had the opportunity this weekend to participate in the Diwali Festival downtown?" asked SA2020 CEO Darryl Byrd.

A long pause followed.

"OK, well that's very disappointing and embarrassing," said Byrd. "There are two people over there."

The Diwali Festival of Lights is one of the largest, if not the largest, celebration of its kind in the country recognizing the Indian tradition. It is held at Hemisfair Park downtown and is in its fifth year in San Antonio.

Byrd may have intentionally asked the question expecting a better response, but it prompted a question:

How many people who have a stake in getting people downtown actually go downtown themselves?

The question was posed to Pat DiGiovanni, the president and CEO of Centro San Antonio, Inc., which went public with its restructure of several downtown revitalization programs now operating under one umbrella.

"I think that's the challenge we have ahead of is really, again, tying into the emotions of people and what really connects them to places," he said. "You've been to those great places yourself. You know and you want to go back and I think that's the kind of experiences that we have to create here so that people will come back."

Even though the Centro family of organizations has existed for decades, there are still challenges.

Richard Rosen, the executive director of the Magik Theater, was one of those who did not attend the Diwali Festival, which was happening next door to his theater.

"I was surprised, but not really," Rosen said of the few that raised their hands. "Sometimes festivals that are crowded, people are reluctant to go to."

Rosen, along with Paula Owen, the president of the Southwest School of Art, believe the arts will ultimately be a big draw to get people downtown.

If you build it, will they come?

Owen told the crowd that the opening of the Briscoe Museum, and the addition of the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to open next year -- and many other recent and upcoming attractions -- will make downtown San Antonio a more desirable place going forward.

"The arts revitalize neighborhoods and catalyze development," Owen said. "They enhance education and provide life-long learning. They help us to celebrate cultural diversity."

DiGiovanni said the public and private partnerships being built by Centro San Antonio connecting themes like education, culture, great places and great experiences are going to make a big difference in the life of downtown.

"Because when we do that we have a really good shot at bringing our locals back to our downtown who have an emotional tie," DiGiovanni said. "They grew up here, they know the great places that they used to remember back in the day but now they just slipped away from it."

During Monday's ceremonies, Centro San Antonio presented checks to the Southwest School of Art and the SAISD Foundation in the amount of $3,000 each.

Centro said it wants to not only revitalize physical spaces downtown, it also wants to help produce future leaders, too.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.