SAN ANTONIO -

Demi Lovato and Gloria Estefan were the headliners expected to draw thousands of fans to the Alamodome over Labor Day weekend for People en Espanol's festival.

The city welcomed the event and supported it by donating 34,000 free rides on VIA buses.

"You've got an event that can run itself. People en Espanol is backed by Time magazine. For what purpose are we using taxpayer funds?" asked concerned citizen Morgan Matson

"It was a one-time donation that we were asked to make and we made it, with the encouragement of city leaders, business leaders, and a vote of the board of trustees," said VIA Chief Engagement Officer Charlie Gonzalez.

There was one board member, Lou Miller, who did not agree with the decision to make an in-kind donation to the festival. Miller made his objections known at the March 26 VIA board meeting.

"We're in the business of providing rides, true enough. We're in the business of supporting economic growth, but we're also in the business of being good stewards of the dollars that we're given," Miller said.

Despite the turnout falling short of expectations both this year and last year, Gonzalez said the festival is a unique educational and entertainment event that has huge potential for San Antonio.

"Why can't that stand or fall on its own merits?" Matson asked. "Why does the senior citizen who's on a fixed income (and) whose tax dollars are (being) used for that -- why does he or she have to pay for that?"

Matson also questioned why VIA would choose to support a for-profit event for a multi-million-dollar company.

"When we've got Fiesta; we've got (the San Antonio) Stock Show and Rodeo; we've got (Susan G. Komen for the Cure's) Race for the Cure; we've got other things that arguably would be more deserving of public funds, (but) it doesn't happen," Matson said.

Charter service is often provided for citywide events, but it's not free of charge, as was the case with festival.      

"Subsequently, we found that VIA lost money, not just on providing the service, but on people who rode it," Miller said.

He blames People en Espanol for the low numbers, noting they did more bartering than spending, which meant little return for San Antonio.

The Defenders' calls to VIA Chairman Henry Munoz were not returned. Munoz announced his resignation as chairman last month, but the VIA board has not replaced him.

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