City officials and community leaders shifted nervously in their seats and stances Monday afternoon at the Alamodome when the first city announced as a future host of the NCAA men's basketball Final Four was Houston for 2023.
Would the NCAA pick two Texas cities with just four events up for grabs?
The nervousness lasted only a few minutes and was relieved with a resounding cheer worthy of a stadium when San Antonio was picked to host the 2025 Final Four just three months after successfully hosting the event this year.
"Viva San Antonio!" Mayor Ron Nirenberg shouted a few minutes later at the start of his press conference remarks.
Houston (2023), Phoenix (2024), and Indianapolis (2026) joined San Antonio in celebrating on Monday. The news was not so good for Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, and Los Angeles, which were not selected.
The biggest selling point for San Antonio, officials said, was the success of the 2018 Final Four here, which featured 37,585 hotel room nights, 2,206 credentialed media, and more than 200,000 attendees at events held outside the Alamodome over four days. One study projected the city would reap $185 million in economic impact from the Final Four this year.
“We are thrilled for the cities of Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Indianapolis," which "have hosted the event with overwhelming success in recent years, and yet all of them approached the bid process with an unassuming energy,"said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball. "We look forward to bringing the NCAA’s marquee championship back to those locations.”
What comes next, said Nirenberg and others such as City Manager Sheryl Sculley, is ensuring that the city evolves and improves so it continues to win big events like this and execute hosting duties well.
At the top of that list is exploring a new location for the Music Fest, which has become a popular part of the Final Four weekend. Approximately 145,000 fans attended Music Fest this year in San Antonio, seeing acts such as Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons at Hemisfair. However, planned upgrades at the park will reduce it in size, and Jenny Carnes, executive director of the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee, said it would no longer be large enough unless the NCAA made exceptions, which is possible.
Sculley said one possible option for the Music Fest next time is the downtown campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio on the near West Side, and the First Tee driving range area off U.S. Highway 281 about two miles from downtown might also work.
"We will only continue to get better," Sculley said. With the planned development at Hemisfair, construction of new hotels, and the forthcoming renovations at Alamo Plaza, she said, "we know that we'll be going from the best Final Four host city to an even better one in 2025."
Nirenberg called Monday's big win a crowning achievement for the Alamodome, showing there is still plenty of life in the 25-year-old building. But now addressing issues known to be a concern to the NCAA – and doing it soon – has also become a priority.
The City and other entities such as the Alamo Bowl combined to spend $65.5 million on major stadium renovations that were completed earlier this year. Nirenberg said the next round of improvements will not cost as much. Those upgrades are expected to include adding 18 more suites to reach the NCAA minimum of 70, improving building access and seating options for those with disabilities, upgrading or adding elevators and escalators, and improving the uppermost concourse to provide parity with the recently updated plaza level.
San Antonio is working with Populous, an architectural design firm that regularly partners with the NCAA, to study what improvements the Alamodome needs to meet NCAA specifications for an event nearly seven years away. Once that report is finished it will be presented to City Council for approval. No property taxes or revenues of the City’s general fund would be used for the improvements, Nirenberg and Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, director of the Convention and Sports Facilities Department, said.
Officials have already said they plan to pay for new upgrades with funds from the Community and Visitor Facilities Fund, which gets its revenue from operations at the Alamodome and Convention Center and a portion of the Hotel Occupancy Tax.
A lot can happen in seven years, including the cost of construction and renovation possibly rising, which is why Nirenberg said he would be in favor of beginning the next round of Alamodome renovations as soon as they fit into the schedule of the facility with the least disruption to scheduled events as possible. The last Alamodome renovations were projected to cost the city $41 million, but they ended up costing $65.5 million, according to Muzquiz Cantor. She said the costs escalated mostly because of the rising expense of construction in those few years.
"If we're going to be upgrading this facility for known events, sooner than later is always better," said Nirenberg, who was intimately involved in the bid process for the event, even joining a 10-member group that traveled to Boston last week to give the city's pitch to the NCAA. Representatives from UTSA and the University of the Incarnate Word also participated. The two schools will serve as co-hosts in 2025 now that UIW has moved to Division I.
San Antonio is also in the midst of the bid process for the women's Final Four in 2021. The NCAA will announce the winner of that bid in October. Carnes said she believes Monday's success would only help in terms of winning the women's bid because it's a signal that the NCAA already sees San Antonio as a solid option.
"The footprint of downtown San Antonio continues to be one of the most walkable and liveable in the United States," Nirenberg said, "which is why San Antonio continues to be such an attractive location for the Final Four and other events like this."