Annual fiesta celebrates Mexican, American heritage.
Brownsville’s Charro Days festival, which helped lift community spirit during the Great Depression, has become one of the largest and best-known festivals in Texas.
The annual event, occurring the last week of February in Brownsville, boosts the local economy and bridges the cultures of Brownsville and its sister city, Matamoros, Mexico.
Though no specific study has assessed the economic impact of Charro Days, local businesses and organizations estimate that out-of-town visitors pump in between $500,000 and $1 million in meals, fuel and other spending during the festival, says Gilberto Salinas with the Brownsville Economic Development Corp.
Tools that Made
Twelve committees oversee Charro Days and plan for the event year-round. Organizers draw on the entire community for the festival’s continued success and rely on the following to stage a successful event:
- Sponsorships. The city of Brownsville, a platinum sponsor for the event, provides security and clean up through its police and public works department crews.
- Ticket sales. Sales from Charro Days’ carnival and dance provide the majority of funding for the event. Sponsorships and private donations cover remaining costs.
- Giving Back. As a nonprofit organization, Charro Days Inc. gives proceeds from festival events back to the community. Organizers say Sombrero Fest, held during the height of Charro Days, has returned $1.5 million to the community through donations to non-profit organizations.
“The ripple effect, if using the multiplier of $7 per $1 spent, is in the area of $3.5 million to $7 million generated during the festivities, of which a significant portion is fresh money,” Salinas says. “Local restaurants and retailers welcome Charro Days with open arms.”
Area hotel beds are full in the days surrounding the annual event. According to Comptroller of Public Accounts’ data, hotel taxable receipts from Brownsville were up 8 percent in February 2007 — when Charro Days took place — from the previous month.
Charro Days Inc. is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. Sales from the event’s carnival and dance provide the majority of the funding; the rest is funded through sponsorships and private donations.
An estimated 165,000 people watch the parades, which occur during three days of the festival, says Michael Puckett, executive director for Charro Days.
“This is the biggest party that Brownsville puts on,” he says.
The 71-year-old celebration began with four days of fireworks, parades, street dances, boat races, a bullfight and a rodeo – on both sides of the international bridge. The “Grito,” a shout of joy that officially opened Charro Days from its inception in 1938, is still part of the celebration.
The international bridging of cultures with Brownsville’s sister city of Matamoros has been key to Charro Days’ success. In 1950, the Fiesta Parade crossed the Rio Grande River for the first time as jubilant Mexican crowds greeted it. International bridges were open during Charro Days, which allowed family and friends in the two countries to enjoy the festival together.
Events like Charro Days can help preserve, celebrate and promote a community’s uniqueness, says Paul Serff, president and CEO of the Texas Travel Industry Association.
“Festivals and special events provide a place for citizens to come together, to work, celebrate and embrace their sense of community,” Serff says. “It can be as much about economic development as it is quality of life.”
For more information on Charro Days, visit www.charrodaysfiesta.com. For resources on how you can fund events and generate economic development in your community, contact the Comptroller’s Local Government Assistance and Economic Development Division at (800) 531-5441, ext. 3-4679,
or visit www.TexasAhead.org. TR
Tips for Event Success
Paul Serff, president and CEO of the Texas Travel Industry Association, says communities should consider the following when planning an event:
- What is our objective in holding the event? Is it a one-time celebration, annual event, joint venture with another organization or community or moneymaker?
- Does the event support local businesses, fill hotel rooms, create community spirit, make the community aware of an issue or problem or celebrate the community’s culture and heritage? Is it consistent with the community’s character and culture?
- Determine community support for the event, especially with local volunteers or local service groups.
- Develop and support appropriate budget for the event.