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San Antonio Hoping For Better Image Despite Tower Collapse

September 12, 1987

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (AP) _ Civic boosters hope the collapse of two huge towers behind the altar for Sunday’s outdoor papal Mass won’t detract from the public relations value of Pope John Paul II’s visit.

″Our image problem is that people don’t realize that we are the ninth- largest city in the country,″ said Nick Milanovich, spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce. ″Most people think we’re a small Texas town. They think of John Wayne and the Alamo.″

The papal visit, he said, offers the kind of publicity money can’t buy, since, ″internationally, San Antonio will be on the map for a full 24 hours.″ But he conceded that he would breathe easier after the pope has left town. Since San Antonio is a relative newcomer to the list of America’s 10 largest cities, ″we have no experience in dealing with half a million people in one place at one time.″

The 110-foot towers, draped in colorful tapestries celebrating the pope’s visit, came crashing down Thursday night in high winds that they supposedly were built to withstand. No one was injured.

On Friday and Saturday, workers removed the twisted metal debris and inspected the altar foundation to make sure it was sound.

″The altar area definitely will be ready,″ said the Rev. Larry Stuebben, chairman of the Texas Papal Visit Committee. ″They’re trying to look at other ingenious ways in the limited amount of time that we have to not only have the site safe and ready, but also very attractive.″

Since the altar at the Mass site will lack its banner-bedecked towers, ″We’ll just have to show (the pope) a few pictures when he comes,″ said the Rev. David Garcia, chairman of the Papal Mass Site Committee.

″Instead of all kinds of colorful decorations, it’s going to be the people that are going to be the decorations,″ he said. ″Then, he’s going to see the color that there is in San Antonio.″