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COTULLA’S NEW MAIN STREET PROGRAM MANAGER LAYS PLANS FOR FESTIVAL, DOWNTOWN EVENTS
For Cotulla Main Street Program Manager Margie Gonzalez, confirmation that the city will host a Hispanic festival at Plaza Florita in September means life is coming back to one of the community’s most beloved venues.
Gonzalez was promoted by the city administration this month to take over the office previously managed by Karina Sauceda, who has left Cotulla City Hall to begin serving La Salle County as the agricultural extension agent.
Although the September 29 event takes place outside Cotulla’s historic preservation district, the heritage festival represents a celebration of the culture and family histories that played vital roles in the foundation and growth of the county seat as the heart of La Salle’s business, agriculture, trade and education from the dawn of the 20th century to modern times.
Gonzalez has begun scheduling live entertainment for the Friday festival, organizing games and activities, taking reservations from vendors opening booths at the plaza, and promoting the event as the first of its kind in the city.
She believes many aspects of the festival will help local residents recall the popular Catholic church ‘Jamaica’ events that brought crowds to the Plaza for generations. The festival will include a particular favorite, the traditional cake walk.
“People are excited about festivals, family events, coming back to the plaza, and that’s music to our ears,” the Main Street Program manager said last week. “We are bringing life back to the place, and we are doing it in a way that highlights the cultural significance of the plaza.
Cotulla’s Plaza Florita has been added to the National Register of Historic Places for its place in the long-running heritage of the community on the east side of Cotulla, the neighborhoods that were largely populated by Mexican-Americans whose children attended the Welhausen School.
As Main Street Program manager, however, Gonzalez is primarily responsible for promoting the historic preservation and restoration of the city’s downtown buildings, helping to regenerate economic vitality, attract tourists and encourage interest in the district whose buildings contained the businesses, banks, offices and boarding rooms of those who fueled the city’s trade.
The program manager presides over meetings of an advisory board made up of volunteers with shared interests in the city’s historic preservation and promotion, especially in encouraging the regrowth of small businesses in the area. She brings management experience to the job after working a number of years in the energy industry and as the human resources officer for the Las Palmas Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. While her duties may differ from those of her past professional positions, she believes time management, project organization and prioritization, communications and mission development are the strong suits she brings to the office.
“We report to the Texas Historical Commission at regular intervals in the year, including monthly statements on the program’s activities,” Gonzalez said. “We also conduct a running inventory of the historic buildings in our district, the condition they are in, what activity is taking place and what businesses are moving into the area, and the special events we host to highlight this special part of the community.”
Funded in large part by revenues generated in Cotulla through a hotel occupancy tax, the primary program goal is economic development through business promotion and tourism.
“We have recommendations that we bring to the board,” Gonzalez said of her and the city administration’s approach to the Main Street program’s volunteer advisors. “We start the discussion on community events, directions that we want special projects to go in, and begin the talks on how to meet our goals. It’s a very fluid process, as it involves input from people who are involved in the community in many different ways.”
A downtown event close to Gonzalez’ heart involves creating a monthly market day for the historic district, attracting food trucks to the community and opening booth spaces for vendors.
“If we can accomplish this, and if we can promote it to grow over time, it would be a huge crowd draw,” she says. “Food trucks are becoming very popular in South Texas now, and people are discovering new foods or can order foods that they like but couldn’t find in Cotulla before, so I believe that will be a successful event.
“On top of that, there are many small businesses in our area that don’t have a storefront of their own yet, or who are still operating from home,” she adds. “Allowing them to bring their wares to a market day would boost their business a lot, and it would be a step towards more economic development. Having crowds come to a market in our beautiful downtown historic district would really draw attention to the the buildings and help restore the community’s pride.
“We are going to have a taste of that variety, that family fun and that Cotulla style of celebration when we host the heritage festival,” Gonzalez said. “All of these activities bring the community together and generate vitality in our historic places.”