It passed by with little fanfare earlier this summer, but SeaWorld San Antonio is 25 years old. This is an important milestone for our city, our region, and one that is important to me personally.
This largest of the SeaWorld parks opened in April 1988 in what was then considered a remote part of San Antonio. I was part of the opening team to market the park, arriving in San Antonio 7 months earlier.
It would be easy to talk about how SeaWorld San Antonio changed the physical layout of the northwest corridor where it was built. Even simpler (and more amazing!) would be to examine its economic impact in our region and on the city’s tourism efforts. Or how thousands of high school and college students called SeaWorld their “first job.”
But I will leave that to others to examine. What I want to celebrate after 25 years is the effect that the place, the project and the people had on my life and on my career.
There’s something about this place – San Antonio – that is hard to explain. Living in San Antonio opened my eyes to a radically different culture from my Cleveland upbringing. I knew nothing about Mexico, or the history of the region, much less the rich fabric of the Hispanic heritage here. It drew me back to SeaWorld in 2002 as the Communications Director 10 years after I left the company to start a family and live overseas.
The enormity of the project—building the world’s largest marine life park—did not impress me until much later. We had a big job ahead of us: get the park open by April 15. We did whatever was necessary to make that happen. We traveled, presenting shows in dozens of cities across the U.S. plus Mexico and Canada. We hosted writers, business leaders and anyone who would listen to “park tours” from the vantage point of the Garden of Flags. While that’s natural for a marketing team, we also planted flower beds, raked, picked rocks and laid sod during the two weekends preceding opening because there were not enough hours in the day to get it all done.
While the impact of San Antonio and the size of the project made a mark on my career, it’s the people I met and the leaders from whom I learned that made the experience a defining point in my career.
At this point in my post, I should start naming names, but if I did that, I would most certainly forget someone who made an extraordinary impact on me over the 15 years I worked for SeaWorld. There is no company I know with stronger leadership, singular direction and focused passion like that of my colleagues at SeaWorld.
Now, as a solo public relations pro, I frequently find something that I experienced during my SeaWorld career which applies to a completely different industry or situation.
While the exact moment of SeaWorld’s twenty-fifth anniversary may have passed, my gratitude is enduring. I hope I get invited to the park in 2038 to celebrate fifty years.