Some of the frostiest temperatures the city has seen all year didn’t stop thousands of New Year’s Eve revelers from filing into Hemisfair Park for the kickoff of San Antonio’s yearlong Tricentennial celebration on Sunday afternoon.
“San Antonians are not going to let a little cold weather [and] a little wind stop us from celebrating our heritage,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid- to low 30s throughout the night, with winds adding to the wintery chill. While the cold weather may have deterred some from attending the festivities, others who arrived early said it was just a matter of dressing appropriately.
“We just bundled up because we wanted to come out here and have a great time,” said Juanita Villareal as she headed toward the east stage to see Little Joe Y La Familia.
Those who felt the cold huddled around several propane heaters located around the fairgrounds.
“San Antonio knows how to party,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaking to reporters inside the Hilton Palacio del Rio hotel. “The New Year’s Eve celebration has been a great tradition. It continues on, but in a bigger and brighter way this year because of the significance of the Tricentennial.”
With only a few hours until the midnight firework show, many more are expected to arrive for Celebrate 300’s headliners REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo, as well as several local and regional musical acts.
“When we heard they were having Little Joe [Y La Famila] and Pat Benatar, we had to be here,” said Jamie Alvaro, one of about a dozen partygoers waiting at the front of the east stage barricades around 4:30 p.m. She and several others said they planned on being there for all the headlining acts.
Attendees snacked on a variety of offerings from food stands, rode the 100-foot ferris wheel, and participated in arts and crafts activities throughout the early evening.
Neither Tricentennial officials nor San Antonio Police Department officers spoke to turnout numbers early in the evening, but one said she expected to have an estimate by morning on New Year’s Day.
Before entering the fairgrounds, attendees had to pass through one of four security checkpoints manned by guards inspecting bags and screening people with handheld metal detectors.
Police officers and vehicles were present inside and around the footprint of the party. The Rivard Report spoke with one couple who was photographing an armored SWAT vehicle parked at the intersection of South Alamo and East Market streets.
“[Security concerns] cross my mind, but I was in the military so that always crosses my mind,” said Erik Neri, adding that he felt the City had taken adequate security measures by closing off streets and setting up security cameras.
“You can’t prevent it if it’s going to happen, but they’ve taken some good security measures,” he said.
Shining brightly in purple, green, and red lights, the Hilton Palacio Del Rio illuminated the fairgrounds below, and people who had rented rooms came out onto their balconies throughout the early afternoon to observe the festivities. Access to the hotel was limited to hotel guests, media, and those invited to a private Celebrate 300 party featuring Selena cover band Bidi Bidi Banda, a San Antonio Police officer told the Rivard Report.
The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center gleamed in purple as night fell on Hemisfair. Around the grounds, trees were illuminated by multi-colored lights while the ferris wheel twinkled as it spun.
“We knew that it was the Tricentennial, but we didn’t come down specifically for that,” Neri said. “We came down because it’s New Year’s and to see all the lights.”