SAN ANGELO – This piece is a continuation of my deep belief that quality of life investments are the essence of economic development. More than ever, people choose where they wish to live and build their lives. Quality of life issues are the cornerstone of any prosperous community.
San Angelo has many amazing assets. I believe it’s healthy to ask the question: What else can be done with the resources at hand to bring people together on a regular basis, for relatively no cost, and enhance the well-being of those who choose to participate.
How hard would it be to designate each Saturday or at least one weekend a month as a Fiesta on the Concho? Keep it simple and consistent. Block off the river road underneath the Beauregard bridge down to Irving Street. Encourage young and old to come and run, walk, stroll, rollerblade, bicycle, fish, canoe, kayak, picnic and play games on the expansive Santa Fe park and the banks of the Concho river.
It’s time to reimagine the highest and best use of Santa Fe park in keeping with the deed restrictions tied to this land grant. It is meant to be enjoyed by all San Angeloans and to preserve the natural beauty. The decrepit golf course no longer serves a civic purpose.
The key to creating a citywide tradition is consistency. Cities and central business districts around the world have had tremendous success with establishing designated days each month for a community wide invitation to gather around their landmarks. We have three rivers that come together as one. Most of our cultural offerings are within blocks of the river. Some easy and temporary road closures could further facilitate safe and open spaces.
Looking to the past often informs our future. Smile if you remember Fiesta del Concho. Any San Angeloan over 40 years old have fond memories of this decades long tradition. It offered something for everyone. Rick Smith once reminded us that this citywide festival started as a 10-day affair in 1973. It was paired down to four days by 1979. That effort fizzled out sometime in the late 90’s. A few attempts have been made to resurrect the extravaganza of the past, but as one person put it: organizers “ran into the same problems of lots of work with no financial reward at the end.”
The lesson is to keep it simple. Keep it cost free. I have no doubt that people will responds favorably. All that is needed is to rearrange some city resources that are already in place.
On a nostalgic note, some of the crowd-pleasing activities of the past included: hot-air balloons, classic car parades, motorcycle rallies, bicycle races, water ski exhibitions in Bell Street lake, Polo matches and horse demonstrations at Fort Concho, armadillo racing, talent shows, fiddlers completions, three-legged relays, tugs of war, horseshoe and washer competitions among many other games. I have zero doubt that many future possibilities and good memories will emerge if the stage is set once again for all of San Angelo to be drawn to the Concho on a routine basis.
Pause for a moment to consider this: Who lives in San Angelo? What attracts people to San Angelo? We know that Angelo State University has roughly 10,000 students at any given time. Thousands more work at the University as professors and support staff. Roughly 14,000 military personnel rotate through Goodfellow Air Force Base each year. Thousands of permanent party personnel support this mission. Some call San Angelo home for two or three years. Others choose to retire or start second careers here.
San Angelo schools serve over 15,000 students. Thousands of teachers and staff are committed to this effort. Many hundreds of doctors choose to make their careers in San Angelo. Thousands of nurses and staff support our medical system that serves approximately 250,000 people. Most of the folks who fill these jobs choose to call San Angelo home.
If I do the math, GAFB and ASU alone account for roughly 150,000 + people who rotate through San Angelo every decade. These are go-getter folks. Devoted public servants and aspiring professionals. Some will be entrepreneurs. What kind of experience do they have in San Angelo? Will they remember our city fondly? When it comes time to begin a career, start a business, raise a family or even retire, will San Angelo be on their list of places to settle?
We should do everything we can to make San Angelo a place to call home. For residents and prospective residents alike.
Joseph W Lown
Former Mayor of San Angelo, Texas