If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Aside from serving as a meeting place for the Cotulla City Council and a select number of government training seminars, the AB Alexander Convention Center on the IH-35 access road has lain dormant for a year.
If the city council’s ongoing caution against allowing crowds to gather indoors remains at an elevated level, the facility may not reopen to the public until after July 4.
Shuttered as a precautionary measure against crowding during the coronavirus pandemic, the convention center is traditionally booked through City Hall by private organizations for family events, dances, awards ceremonies, community functions and training seminars. Originally built by Jerry Cox as the Crazy Horse dance hall and bar, the building passed into city hands in the mid-1990s. Since then, the multipurpose facility has been remodeled twice at municipal expense and includes a commercial kitchen, dining area, wooden dance floor and a stage. The building also houses the offices of the Cotulla – La Salle County Chamber of Commerce in an upstairs suite, where a meeting room has been appropriated for monthly use by the city council.
According to city secretary Bianca Maldonado, pressure on City Hall to reopen the facility for private bookings has increased greatly over the past three months while growing numbers of local residents have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Maldonado told councilors at their April 29 meeting that some events planned by local families have been booked for over a year, but the facility’s closure has prevented any of those functions being held.
Councilors indicated at their meeting in early April that they anticipate reopening the convention center once the percentage of local residents vaccinated against the virus reaches a point that the local health authority deems it safe for an event to take place at which large numbers of people may gather.
At their last meeting, councilors learned that approximately thirty percent of the community’s population had been vaccinated against the coronavirus. That percentage is expected to have doubled by midsummer, according to City Administrator Larry Dovalina.
“I believe that by July fourth, we will have over fifty percent vaccinated in the community,” Dovalina told the council at the April 29 meeting, adding that he hopes the number is closer to sixty percent.
“At the pace we are going, the health authority believes also that we will reach that point,” Dovalina said. “The US Centers for Disease Control is basically telling people that if they are vaccinated, then masks are a personal choice.”
Councilors present at the April 29 meeting concurred that City Hall should plan to reopen the convention center on or immediately after the July 4 holiday contingent upon updated tallies of vaccinated people in the community.
“I believe the community will be ready by that time,” the city administrator said. “Parents are looking to have their sons and daughters get shots. There is reason to believe that a good portion of the population will have their shots.”
Councilor Eloy Zertuche said he believes the city should revisit the option of keeping the facility closed if coronavirus infection numbers increase before July 4, giving City Hall an opportunity to take further measures to dissuade people from gathering.
The city confirmed earlier in April that it has begun making plans for an Independence Day festival during the July 4 weekend, including a downtown parade on Saturday evening and a celebration at the La Salle County Fairgrounds on Sunday, July 4, with live entertainment, food, and a fireworks show. Plans for the event have gone ahead, according to both the city administrator and Mayor Javier Garcia, because authorities believe the number of vaccinated people will have exceeded fifty percent of the community attending the festival.
At City Hall, however, elected officials have been hesitant to reopen the convention center out of what the mayor describes as an abundance of caution due to health and safety concerns over an indoor gathering.
The city administrator said at a meeting earlier in April that he believes there is reason to be concerned over the safety of people meeting for a function at which alcohol is served, adding that he thinks it is likely many of those present will forego wearing masks in a convivial environment.
“There is concern over the virus,” Dovalina said April 8 on the topic of reopening the convention center. “We use it for meetings, but it is set up for social distancing. The concern over people renting it is people drinking and forgetting their masks. We do not want to contribute to the spread of disease.”
City Hall confirmed in April that it will not allow any of the bookings made for functions at the convention center in May or June, and that councilors will revisit the issue in May.
Councilor Eloy Zertuche asked whether the facility may be rented at a lower rate in order to attract more bookings.
“There hasn’t been any business here,” the councilor said.
The rental fee for the convention center is $1,000 plus a $400 deposit, according to City Hall.
“You can lower the price, but it won’t cover our costs,” the city administrator said. “There is a lot of damage.”
“Our facility is bigger and it takes a lot of electricity to cool it down,” the mayor said.
Councilors were set to meet May 12 to continue discussion on allowing private functions to resume at the convention center.