After spearheading San Antonio's first organized private/public presence at 2016 South by Southwest (SXSW), nonprofit Choose San Antonio is headed next to the fall, eco-centric version of the Austin festival.
The organization will host SATX at SXSW Eco, two days of showcasing San Antonio at SXSW Eco on Oct. 10-11 at the Austin Convention Center. SXSW Eco, which runs Oct. 10-12, is a gathering of business leaders, policy makers, innovators and designers who will discuss strategies behind socio-economic and environmental change.
Choose San Antonio is organizing a trade show booth during the first two days. Local companies will have representatives talking about sustainability, design, community-based planning and economic innovation. Organizers are still fine-tuning details on which companies and representatives will be featured, said Meghan Garza-Oswald, Choose San Antonio executive director.
The nonprofit also will host an exhibition event, open to anyone, 6 p.m.-midnight on Oct. 10 at Half Step, a craft cocktail bar in the Rainey Street district just south of downtown Austin. Hunter Design Co. will be one of the local up-and-coming businesses to be highlighted during San Antonio's SXSW Eco activation.
Choose San Antonio representatives will be joined by their local community sponsors. There will be refreshments from from a San Antonio-based food truck, as well as live music from the local Doc Watkins Trio, starting at 8:30 p.m.
At the SATX at SXSW Eco launch party Sept. 29 at the Pearl Studio, sponsors said this event is another on an expanding list of opportunities to show the world that San Antonio is a sophisticated city on the rise, attractive especially to young professionals who are eager to start their careers and families.
By last March, Choose San Antonio had built a coalition of private and public sector partners, including the City, Bexar County and Geekdom, to rally locals toward taking part in the full-length 2016 SXSW conference. The nonprofit hosted a headquarters of sorts at Old School Bar and Grill on Sixth Street, an icehouse-themed trade show space, along with several panel discussions and parties, all part of official SXSW programming.
San Antonio-themed programming at SXSW Eco will not be nearly as extensive, but representatives and partners hope it will be worth the while of attendees to study the quality of life in San Antonio, namely its approach to environmental conservations.
"We've had an opportunity at Choose San Antonio to really explore our city beyond just some of the redevelopment initiatives we've done in the real estate department, but we've looked at some of the recreational amenities," Garza-Oswald said. "We have done a really great job of conserving green space here in San Antonio, making that an amenity that is marketable to Millennials throughout the nation."
Garza-Oswald said her organization is working with the County to soon have a public unveiling of the so-called "emerald necklace," better known as the Howard W. Peak Greenway System, a loop of nature trails, linear parks and paved paths around the city.
T.J. Mayes, County Judge Nelson Wolff's chief of staff, said that during the 1990s Howard Peak, while working for the City, recognized the dearth of public greenspace. As Peak got into local politics – first as a District 9 Council member, then as mayor – he led the charge to buy land in flood zones along City-owned property and turn it into a connecting "ring" of hike and bike trails.
"Would you believe me that 61 miles of hike and bike trails surround our city right now, funded by your sales taxes, and another 36 (miles) are on the way?" Mayes asked. "That's just what the City has done. The County invested $229.4 million to restore the San Antonio River south of downtown to protect 113 acres of aquatic habitat and provide eight miles of hike and bike trails." A brand associated with the "emerald necklace" of trails will be revealed at the Half Step event.
Mayes called South by Southwest Eco an event for people who care about the economic, social and environmental well-being of communities. He promoted the river restoration as both flood control protecting homes and properties, and resulting trails that encourage physical fitness and an appreciation of nature.
Local urban designers Nicolas Rivard and Allison Hu talked briefly about the Dignowity Hill park redesign project on the Eastside.
"It's kind of an exciting but challenging time for San Antonio city parks in general. Just to see our city grow so large, to have a really big amount of park acres and a small amount of dollars to invest in those spaces," said Rivard, an independent urban designer. The architectural firm had two representatives at SXSW Eco in 2015 but looks forward to sponsoring Choose San Antonio's mission there this year.
Rivard spoke of Brackenridge Park, Travis Park, Hemisfair and other parklands where private groups have emerged to advocate and raise money for reinvestment in those public spaces. Overland Partners was among the groups that saw Dignowity and Lockwood parks in Dignowity Hill as having no such advocate.
A private/public group, Public Space East, was formed to raise awareness and money to help unify Dignowity and Lockwood parks into a nine-acre space deserving of beautification and community support in a historic neighborhood east of downtown.
"(The design) is really showing the way, a strategy, that hopefully San Antonio can learn from that's community based," said Hu, architect at local firm Overland Partners. "It's an inner-city neighborhood. It's a neighborhood with a ton of creative capital, potential and a wonderful community."
Overland colleague Ana Calhoun said she and her company were "blown away" by the quality of attendees and conversations about sustainability at SXSW Eco. So much so that Calhoun now serves on the SXSW Eco advisory board. She encouraged locals to attend the event.
Brooks City-Base and the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce also are sponsors, along with the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA). Connie Gonzalez, Brooks' public relations director, said tenants at the Air Force base-turned mixed-use development are targeting the same young professionals that are attracted by the participants and issues of focus at SXSW Eco.
"When it comes down to it, we want to attract well-paying, marquee employers to the Southside, but in doing so, we want to make it a community you'd want to live in," Gonzalez said.
South SA Chamber President and CEO Al Arreola said his organization opted to partner with Choose San Antonio because "it's tough for young leaders to see an idea and make it happen." He applauded the nonprofit for its promotion of San Antonio as a place worthy of attention from young professionals.
Terri Herbold, who handles public relations for the EAA, said her agency partnering with Choose San Antonio was a natural fit.
"San Antonio, without a safe and secure source of water, cannot enjoy growth and increased liveability," Herbold said. "Our next leaders, our next protectors of the aquifer, are all of you in this room. We're really trying to get that message out to the next generation."
Choose San Antonio is currently planning for the 2017 SXSW, said the organization's Board Chairman Eric Bell. Other large events where San Antonio can be promoted, such as the Consumer Electronics Show, are on the group's radar for potential future trips. For now, the focus is on SXSW Eco.
"We can get the attention of an entirely new creative class," Bell said of architects, designers and other innovators attending the event.
Top image: ChooseSA at SXSW. Photo by Scott Ball.