July 4th will mean fireworks, cookouts and a three-day weekend for most in the city, but a select group of San Antonio delegates will be at work, observing UNESCO‘s 39th World Heritage Committee meeting in Bonn, Germany where representatives of 21 member nations will decide whether to grant World Heritage Site status to the San Antonio Missions and the Alamo.
This year’s meeting takes place in Bonn on the Rhine from June 28 through July 8. Earlier this month the State Department announced that the International Council on Monuments and Sites had endorsed the 2014 World Heritage nomination of the Alamo and Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada, bringing San Antonio’s Spanish colonial treasures one step closer to the coveted international recognition.
For San Antonio, World Heritage Site designation could redefine the city as a visitor destination and lead to further transformation of the city’s Southside.
Local officials agree the signs are promising as the international gathering approaches, but no one is taking success for granted.
“We think our nomination will come up for consideration on Sunday, July 5, so we are getting over there a few days beforehand,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “We have the endorsement, which is a big step in the right direction, but there are no guarantees. We believe being there, being physically present, will be important to the 21 member countries. We want the representatives of all those countries to see that we care enough to bring over a full delegation.”
Most observers believe the 21 country representatives on the committee will hold a formal vote on World Heritage status for the missions and the Alamo, but Susan Snow, archaeologist and nominations coordinator for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, said the nomination will be discussed among the member countries and any approval likely will be achieved through consensus rather than a vote.
“They don’t usually vote, that’s not how it works,” Snow said in an interview. “Most of the time the committee comes to a consensus and doesn’t have to vote. Only when they can’t achieve a consensus do they actually conduct a raise your hand vote. We expect them to reach consensus.”
San Antonio will be represented by two delegations: one local, one federal.
Snow said the official U.S. delegation will be led by Paris-based U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO Crystal Nix-Hines. Other delegates include Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Nerissa J. Cook; State Department staffer Rob Markle; Steve Moore, chief of international affairs for the National Park Service; Phyllis Ellin and Jonathan Putnam, NPS staffers; and Snow herself.
“Ambassador Nix-Hines is the official representative,” Snow said. “She will introduce the site to the committee and they will ask questions. The rest of us will sit behind the ambassador and scribble answers to those questions and pass them forward.”
The event will be live streamed, and once the time and date are certain, the Rivard Report will alert readers in advance of the presentation. Bonn is seven hours ahead of San Antonio, so it likely will occur early or very early in the morning Central Standard Time.
Judge Wolff is the ranking elected official leading the San Antonio delegation. Snow said Mayor Ivy Taylor has indicated she, too, will join Wolff in leading the delegation to Bonn if she is elected to a full term in the June 13 runoff. If Leticia Van de Putte is elected, organizers assume she will join the delegation. Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes the missions, also will go to Bonn.
Others in the group include Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority; Betty Bueché, director of Bexar County Facilities and Parks Department; Shanon Miller, director of the City’s Office of Historic Preservation; Suzanne Dixon, Texas regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association; and Deedee Poteete, the director of the Dallas-Fort Worth regional office of the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, who will serve as the delegation’s media liaison.
It is of interest who is not part of the delegation.
Father David Garcia, Archdiocesan director of the Old Spanish Missions, will not be in Bonn. Fr. Garcia led the $15.5 million capital campaign to restore the mission chapels and exteriors, and he has been a central figure in the preservation and promotion of the missions. Snow said he will be elsewhere in Europe on other business. Fr. Garcia, who led earlier efforts to restore San Fernando Cathedral, also serves as senior advisor for clergy outreach for Catholic Relief Services, a position that involves considerable travel.
The City staff representation also seems light, perhaps because of criticism in the Express-News directed against local officials and their foreign travel in recent years that did not result in immediate economic returns. City Manager Sheryl Sculley said she is staying in San Antonio with her team to work on the fiscal 2016 budget.
Sherry Dowlatshahi, the City’s chief of protocol and head of international relations, is not part of the delegation, nor is Jean-Luc Mette, a German native recently added to the International Relations staff.
Among other responsibilities, the department oversees Sister Cities relations abroad. San Antonio does not have such a relationship with a German city. Efforts to establish one with the city of Dresden some years ago fell short.
Interestingly, Bonn does not have a Sister Cities relationship in the United States, so expanding the San Antonio mission there could prove fruitful. Bonn served as the capital of West Germany until reunification with East Germany led to a 1991 decision by German lawmakers to return the capital to Berlin.
Germany currently ranks eighth for direct foreign investment in the United States, and Texas is the recipient of much of that investment. Despite San Antonio’s important 19th century links to waves of German immigration to the region, and the many cultural and historical influences still evident in the city today, there is not much of a contemporary cultural or economic connection.
(Read more: Why San Antonio Should Retie the Knot With Germany.)
For now, it seems, the sole focus is on the World Heritage bid.
“This project gained momentum when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was here in San Antonio for the opening of the first few miles of the Mission Reach,” Wolff recalled this week. “His support was critical; without it, we wouldn’t have traveled this far.”
(Read more: San Antonio’s Missions Nominated as World Heritage Site.)
Wolff also praised the work by Snow and Bueché long before most in the city believed World Heritage Site designation was possible.
*Featured/top image: The sun sets on the detail of the door and facade of Mission San José. Photo by Iris Dimmick.