McAllen unveils precautions for city’s first social event since COVID-19

Manuel Munoz readies boat to travel in the water in front of the McAllen Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Mayor Jim Darling danced his way to the podium on a stage at the McAllen Convention Center Monday morning, kicking up his heels and doing a little turn.

He seemed happy, and he had good reason to be. Last week U.S. News and World Report named McAllen the third best place to live out of 150 in the nation, and Monday Darling got to announce the resumption of something he says helped the city earn that title: its public events.

Darling, along with other representatives from the city and the Convention Center Facilities, detailed Monday how in three weeks they plan to hold Fiesta de Palmas, the city’s first major public event since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in South Texas in the spring.

“We hope that this is a success. We hope that this is not a permanent experiment as it relates to how you do things safely, but until it isn’t, that’s what we’re going to have to do,” he said. “We’re going to have to plan to get together at a distance and celebrate the cultures of McAllen in a newly imagined Palmas.”

A celebration of McAllen’s cultural heritages, Fiesta de Palmas traditionally brings together crowds of thousands enjoying food and music.

This year’s Palmas will have food and music, but those throngs of people won’t be present, at least not how they have been in years past.

The new plan is to do most of the festival’s events with pandemic precautions in place that have become the norm over the last seven months.

The food truck park will be drive-thru-style, and you’ll have to pick up your Fiesta Beer Box curbside. Online shows and exhibitions will feature local performers and educators.

There will be some more traditional events, like conveniently socially distanced trajinera dinner boat rides.

This year’s Fiesta de Palmas will also have a live concert with a live audience, the most daringly un-distanced portion of the program.

Attendees of the concert can come in groups of eight or less and will be sequestered in 10-ft-distanced “lawn pods,” essentially just a spray painted circle around groups of chairs, an effort designed to keep guests from different groups from mingling. Facemasks will be required, and there will be additional hygiene signage, temperature checks, and hand sanitizing stations.

Assistant City Manager Joe Vera estimated over a dozen plans have been submitted to the city commission and state before organizers came up with a workable solution.

“I think we’re finally there,” he said.

According to Vera, Monday’s announcement is the first of many the city plans to make in the next few weeks and underscored the importance of public events to the community.

“As the mayor says, the city was recognized as one of the top 25 best cities in the United States to live in, and quality of life is what got us there, a big part of it,” he said. “Of course it’s events like we’re talking about today that make that all possible.”

It appears many of those events will be undergirded by the McAllen Convention Center Facilities “Together Again” safety initiative, described in a release from the city as a reopening protocol package that frameworks “the venue’s phased reopening, cleaning and sanitization protocols, employee training, and screening/prevention support” and includes a 45 page reopening guide.

McAllen Convention Center Facilities Director Yajaira Flores said policies follow local, state and federal guidelines.

“The educational and cultural impact of these facilities reach far beyond the city of McAllen, which is why it is so important to bring back events in a safe way,” she said.

Fiesta de Palmas is slated to be held Nov. 7 and 8. Tickets are available through the McAllen Convention Center/McAllen Performing Arts Center box office and through Ticketmaster.

More information on the event is available on the city’s social media sites.