McALLEN — Declaring itself as the South Pole of Texas, and recognized as such in a letter from Gov. Greg Abbott, McAllen on Wednesday announced the theme for its annual December parade, which will feature an outdoor ice rink, “Rodolfo the bucking reindeer” and a two-story toboggan ride on “real” snow as part of the holiday festivities.
There is expected to be 2 million pounds of real, manufactured snow over 40 days, put on by the company Peerless Production Group that has done similar events in other states. But McAllen?
“Never heard of it,” said Warren Michael Lyng of the production group, recalling the city’s initial inquiry.
Yet there he was on Wednesday at the McAllen Convention Center, where he and city officials took turns speaking on a stage flanked by Christmas decorations, Santa Claus, city employees and others in attendance for the city’s “Christmas in July” announcement of the parade’s wintery theme. Most of the snow-related ac-tivities will be held inside and outside of the convention center from late November through early January, including snowball fights, the toboggan ride and a chance to ride a “bucking reindeer.”
“It’s so cold in the north pole that they decided they’re expanding to a new location where the weather is warm and the Christmas spirit is strong,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said at the start of Wednesday’s event, where he and a man dressed as Santa Claus spoke about the theme.
State Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, added his own remarks and relayed a message from Abbott and the state legislature.
“He, like so many others across this great state of ours, have come to not only see the wonder of the McAllen holiday parade but also recognize that the spirit of Christmas is really alive here in McAllen, Texas, especially today in this cold, cold room,” Guerra said on Wednesday, with the temperature in the convention center’s center ballroom turned down to evoke a “winter fiesta.”
Guerra added, reading from Abbott’s letter: “This official certificate is presented to the city of McAllen in honor of being recognized as the south pole of Texas.”
The cost breakdown for the parade and surrounding events should break even, Darling said after the event. City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez also sought to assure Darling and city commissioners as such during the various remarks during Wednesday’s announcement.
“I checked the budget, mayor and commissioners,” Rodriguez said, looking toward the group sitting in the front row. “I think we’re going to be OK.”
The sixth annual parade is expected to exceed 250,000 attendees this upcoming December after the 2018 parade crossed that threshold. Assistant City Manager Joe Vera, who has overseen the parade throughout its half-dozen years, said in that time more than 1.2 million people have attended the event.
Vera on Wednesday recalled a meeting with his boss, Rodriguez, nearly six years ago that focused on direc-tion from Darling and city commissioners to improve tourism to the city through signature, destination-style events.
“They were wanting McAllen to be the place to be,” Vera said. “Roy and I knew that signature events, like the McAllen holiday parade, are key to growth and national brand recognition. We also knew that this would take a new mindset. It would take a new direction and it was going to mean allocation of funds, support of human resources to be able to get that done. The support has been strong, unwavering and continues to be strong today.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after another destination type event, MXLAN, which debuted last week inside and outside the convention center. The inaugural arts and music festival drew more than 80,000 people, said President Steve Ahlenius of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the organization that ran the event, with a $65,000 assist from the city. Ahlenius said he was thrilled with the MXLAN turnout, but the event has a long way to go, as Vera has learned with the parade.
“It’s gone from new, to startup, to the best parade in the world,” Vera said.