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Fiesta: big bash, big cash

San Antonio’s annual party generates plenty of revenue


Fiesta San Antonio is a spectacular party. It’s also a magnificent money machine.

The 11-day citywide spring fling involves millions of people and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. And the best thing is that almost all of that revenue goes back into the city, in many ways, from jobs to sales to nonprofits.

It’s hard to quantify the ways Fiesta gives back to San Antonio and Bexar County. But in 2017, a study by the Center for Community and Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development did just that.

The study — using figures from Fiesta 2016 — indicated the citywide party generated $340.1 million in sales in the local economy and supported the equivalent of 3,464 full-time jobs. More than half of that was spent by non-local visitors.

A briefer, more recent analysis provided to LOCAL Community News by the city cited even bigger numbers for Fiesta 2018.

According to that analysis, Fiesta-related city sales taxes and hotel occupancy taxes alone combined to bring in a whopping $5,252,909. Fiesta revenue from parking, health permits, Fiesta Carnival and more came to $1,256,680. On the other side, the city spent a total of $3,175,856 on public safety and clean-up services, including trash disposal – leaving the city itself with a $3 million economic shot in the arm.

According to the UTSA study, Fiesta’s economic impact made it one of the biggest money-making events in the nation, out-earning Austin’s vaunted SXSW, the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl and the Indianapolis 500 Festival. In purely San Antonio terms, Fiesta generated more dollars than the Rock & Roll Marathon, Tricentennial celebration, and the 2018 Final Four here, all combined.

“Fiesta has grown so large, and so well-organized, it is amazing,” said Fiesta San Antonio Commission Executive Director Amy Shaw. “It is such a real reflection of San Antonio. All of that is just people coming together to celebrate all that is special about this city.”

Fiesta this year is from April 18-28.

About 150 or more nonprofits and organizations make Fiesta’s 120-plus events happen.

For all those who enjoy Fiesta events, the takeaway is fun. That’s also true for the 75,000 estimated volunteers, most of whom have the satisfaction of helping make money for nonprofit groups, from the fraternal Texas Cavaliers to the San Antonio Zulu Association. For the Fiesta street parades, hundreds of smaller groups, from church committees to Boy Scouts, buy blocks of street-side chairs from the Fiesta Commission for $6 a chair, and resell the seats for $16, Shaw said, with the proviso they clean up the areas where their chairs were located.

A Night in Old San Antonio, the San Antonio Conservation Society’s four-night festival in La Villita, involves about 10,000 volunteers, and nets about $1.5 million  a year, according to Audrey Haake, a former trial lawyer and longtime Society volunteer who now serves as the group’s full-time director of operations for NIOSA.

“NIOSA is the single largest fundraiser for historic preservation in the United States, and it escalates every year,” Haake said.

The profits go straight back into the Society’s mission – preserving and restoring historic properties, parks and the cultural legacy of the area, as well as education, scholarships and its two house museums. Since all the food and beverage booths at NIOSA are run by Society volunteers, the organization spends some $558,000 on eats and drinks for the event, Haake said.

“Our vendors include a large number of small companies in the area, like (Adelita Tamales and Tortillas) and Los Cocos Bakery,” she added.

On average, NIOSA-goers consume 25,000 buns, rolls and bolillos; 30,000 tortillas; 6,000 tamales; 5,000 turkey legs; 11,000 pounds of chicken; and 17,000 pounds of beef, according to Society estimates. That’s a lot of groceries for a good cause.

The 10-day-long Fiesta de Los Reyes at Market Square, produced by the Rey Feo Consejo Educational Foundation in partnership with the city of San Antonio, is another of Fiesta’s biggest events and revenue generators.

Walter Serna, vice president of the Fiesta Commission board and a former Rey Feo, has seen the event from both sides.

“It has really blown up since 2010. Now we make about $600,000 a year. In the last eight years, the city has made more than $2.1 million for the fund that maintains Market Square, and the Consejo has made over a million dollars for scholarships,” Serna said.

He added, “Fiesta is a big industry, and it makes a lot of money – and it’s all for the community, and it’s fun.”


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