Local and state officials gathered at the city’s most iconic structure and symbol of independence on Wednesday to celebrate the Texas Legislature’s unprecedented $31.5 million investment in preservation of the Alamo and redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza.
A new era of state and city partnership enshrined by the Texas Legislature along with the appropriation went into effect Tuesday. The funds include the traditional, biennial $1.5 million allocation for Alamo maintenance and preservation, $5 million to fund additional improvements and protections, and $25 million to cover the costs of a new state-city master plan and to implement the first changes called for in the plan.
Selection of a lead firm to oversee the master planning process has been in the works for months and should be decided soon. The new master plan will be a joint effort by the City of San Antonio, which owns Alamo Plaza, and the State of Texas, which owns the Alamo. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) took control of the Alamo in July after 110 years of custody by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).
The master plan is an effort to better honor the Alamo and the Alamo Plaza as important historical and cultural sites and now part of the serial World Heritage designation granted by UNESCO at its July meeting in Bonn,Germany. The plan is expected to include the construction of a museum and visitor center that tells the history of the site from its indigenous occupation, through the establishment there in the 1740s and 1750s of Mission San Antonio de Valero, its secularization by the Church in 1793, and later, as the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, which World Heritage delegates from Europe, Asia and South America cited in their unanimous support of the U.S. application.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the first to speak during Wednesday’s celebration, thanked the Texas Legislature for allocating major funding even before a master plan exists to “protect, preserve, and defend the Alamo.” Bush said the Alamo tells the story of courage and the price of freedom.
“No symbol defines our great state more than the Alamo,” he said.
Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), an ardent advocate for redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza while serving on City Council representing District 1, said the master plan will change the visitor’s experience of the Alamo.
“I think the story has been told in a very racialized, unsophisticated way and we are changing that,” he said.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Prect. 4) said the appropriated funds are an opportunity for new investments in the Alamo.
“(The investments) give us the opportunity to tell the full story of Native Americans, of Latinos, of the Texas population, as well as African-Americans who also fought here,” Calvert said.
Mayor Ivy Taylor said the City of San Antonio already has invested $1 million in the master plan, an investment that actually began before the new state-city partnership was formed. She said the new level of funding will “kickstart the development and implementation of the master plan for the future of the Alamo.”
But the future of the Alamo depends on the structure of the building itself. The Alamo historically has lacked adequate funding for maintenance and repairs, and the Daughters were the target or criticism over the years for lacking the professional credentials to oversee preservation and historic site management. Mayor Taylor said the Texas Land Commission’s funds will help to “carry out much needed conservation activities.”
Sen. José Menéndez said the funds came at a crucial time, referring to the recent World Heritage designation of the Missions.
“It is sad that the Alamo was falling into disrepair. Not only did we need the money to preserve the edifice, the 300-year-old walls, but we needed even more money to help create a proper environment to tell the story,” he said.
The Texas Legislature named British rock musician Phil Collins an honorary Texan for his gifts from his expansive collection of Alamo artifacts.
Menéndez said those artifacts could be placed in a museum to tell the history of “the symbol of Texas.”
Meanwhile, a few hours later and a few blocks away, hundreds of the people involved in one way or the other in the World Heritage bid gathered at a Centro San Antonio lunch to look ahead at the challenges and opportunities that come with the rare and coveted designation. (See related story later Wednesday).
*Featured/top image: County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Prect. 4) Texas Land Commissioner George Bush and Mayor Ivy Taylor converse before the press conference. Photo by Joan Vinson