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Cotulla’s potential as a tourist destination and center for new economic growth became the focus of attention in a special seminar presented this month in the AB Alexander Convention Center.
Held with Cotulla Main Street board members and other civic leaders in attendance, the September 9 event was presided over by guest speaker Dr. Edward Dramberger, whose presentation was entitled ‘Knowledge Brings the World Together.’
Efforts by the Main Street Program to promote Cotulla’s historic attractions, parks and downtown shopping have been underway for a decade; combining the city’s long-term goals for economic development, the Chamber’s promotion of local businesses is aimed at helping forge a unified drive to boosting the community’s status as a travel destination.
Dramberger is known in the speech circuit as ‘The Destination Doctor’ and prompted Main Street program supporters to envision a community whose festivals, historic features and unique goods would contribute to a gradual appreciation of Cotulla as a place at which families would enjoy weekend visits, explore museums, and take part in entertaining events. Ultimately, goals include developing a thriving downtown business district amid the city’s historic buildings, feeding the local economy, generating business for hotels, and encouraging investment. At the same time, the Main Street Program seeks to continue pushing for the preservation, restoration and repurposing of the oldest buildings in the historic district and those with architectural features of interest and histories that help tell the story of the county seat.
“Dr. Dramberger illustrated strategies to overcome failures, tapping into the community’s many possibilities, and expanding on what is already established,” the Main Street Program reported from the seminar. “The multimedia presentation with interactive participations kept Main Street Program board members engaged in thinking, sharing, and planning ways to effectively market Cotulla.”
The group selected three projects to develop, including a celebration of the service and career of its most famous former teacher, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who taught Hispanic students at the Welhausen School beside the present-day Plaza Florita at the end of the 1920s.
Johnson returned to Cotulla in 1966, when he was President of the United States, to push his landmark Education Bill and to meet the men and women who had been his students and who had spent their lives working in La Salle County.
Today, visitors to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin are greeted with a recording of his voice from a 1960s interview in which he emphasizes that one of the most influential moments of his career was his experience in teaching the underserved and economically disadvantaged children of Cotulla. Lessons learned in his early career are widely credited with helping form his dedication to service for the benefit of the nation’s minorities, under-educated, under-served, and poor. President Johnson’s Education Bill, the US Civil Rights Act, and his vision of the ‘Great Society’ are seen by scholars of his career as having their foundation in his early impressions.
While there is a new commemorative statue of the late president in Cotulla, unveiled in 2019 in front of his former school, complete with historical marker, and an educational exhibit with mementoes from his teaching career and 1966 visit at the Brush Country Museum near Veterans Park downtown, Main Street Program board members are hoping to promote Johnson’s connection with the city further by launching a festival in his name.
The city of Cotulla has taken the first steps in the application for a national historical designation directly connected to its association with the former president. Main Street board members agreed last week to pursue further contact with the Presidential Library and other organizations promoting Johnson’s commemoration through educational exhibits, and to encourage establishment of a permanent historical exhibit at the local school district.
According to Main Street Manager Patsy Leigh, reporting from the training seminar, board members are keen to establish an LBJ festival on Cotulla’s calendar, incorporating presidential history with local arts and crafts, traditional music, a celebration of the labor force and the culture of Cotulla’s early years, activities for children, and features unique to the community. The organization is hoping to establish the festival in November, to invite Johnson family members, and to display artifacts and host guest speakers as part of the attraction.
Other projects currently being explored by the Main Street Program include a motorcycle tour destination as a promotion for weekend tourism; greater involvement in the promotion of La Salle County’s biggest calendar event, the annual Wild Hog Cook-Off & County Fair, held in March; and increased cultural activities based at Plaza Florita and at the Guadalupe Hall, such as travel blessings and events featuring food and refreshment vendors, live music and family attractions.