$26 Million Alameda Theater Renovation Invites Nostalgia

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The front facade of the historic Alameda Theater on East Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The front facade of the historic Alameda Theater on East Houston Street.

What kind of programming will the renovated Alameda Theater host? How much will tickets cost? Where will we park? Will Texas Public Radio take over the theater? How will the radio station support and represent Latino culture?

These were just a few of the questions asked during a public meeting Tuesday evening about the future of the historic theater in downtown San Antonio that has sat vacant for 30 years. The City, Bexar County, and TPR are still in the negotiation and planning phases of a $26.4 million deal that would completely renovate the theater space and provide the National Public Radio affiliate station prime downtown real estate for its new headquarters.

Part of the planning phase involves several days of Recordando El Teatro Alameda, Remembering the Alameda Theater, during which the public will be invited to share and record stories, memories, and photographs. These will be archived and used to inform the design and programming of the space.

The first will take place on Saturday, July 8 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m at Rinconcito de Esperanza, 816 S. Colorado St. At least three more will be scheduled through July at various locations to be announced soon. The Office of Historic Preservation may set up a separate Facebook page to collect even more stories, organizers said. Volunteers are needed for the days of remembrance and other initiatives associated with the Alameda. Contact Veronica Garcia in the Center City Development and Operations Department at (210) 207-8477 or Veronica.Garcia@sanantonio.gov. Click here for more information.

The City and County would each contribute $9 million out of a tax increment fund and TPR would pay $5 million for the capital project. The remaining $3.4 million would be covered by historic tax credits, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told about 30 residents that attended the meeting. The theater would be available to rent to public, private, and nonprofit organizations looking for a venue to host events – from private galas to ballet folklórico performances to public input meetings like the one hosted by the City on Tuesday.

At least one more public input session will be held after the story collection process, Houston said.

The Alameda Conservancy will be officially created in August and its board, which likely will include TPR, City, and County representatives, will oversee the design process.

Several people the Rivard Report spoke to at the meeting were optimistic about the deal, hoping to experience once again the vibrancy that the 1949 Mexican-American entertainment venue brought to downtown. Meeting attendees wrote down questions that were then posed by a moderator. One spoke directly to concerns that the board would be made up of typical “upper class” stakeholders and leave out small community organizations. This could lead to inaccessible rent and ticket prices.

At first the board will represent funders of the capital project, Houston said, but once the project moves out of the design phase and starts to tackle programming and partnership aspects, the board will open up to new members from the arts and culture sector.

Construction might start in late 2018 or early 2019 – The goal is to open the Alameda doors by the end of 2020. But first, a master lease agreement between the City and the Alameda Conservancy must be approved, then a funding agreement.

While some profit could be made from lease revenue, the plan is to sustain the theater with philanthropic and public dollars to keep rent and ticket prices low. The Conservancy won’t be organizing or developing events to compete with other entities, Houston said, it merely seeks to provide a platform for existing groups that need the space. Preference will be given for programming focused on Latino culture to honor the theater and community’s history, but all cultures will be welcome, Houston said.

There have been other proposed partnerships and plans for the space, but TPR’s funding and utilization commitments and a renovation that will make the space more versatile should prove successful, Houston said.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston (top right) explains how the $26.4 million Alameda Theater renovation will also accommodate TPR's desire for downtown office space.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston (top right) explains how the $26.4 million Alameda Theater renovation also will accommodate TPR’s desire for downtown office space.

Other concerns brought up during the meeting had to do with TPR’s end of the deal. How does TPR represent the Latino community?

By moving its headquarters from its Datapoint Drive location on the far-Northwest Side, TPR can “not only recognize but celebrate the culture and history of the part of San Antonio that we’ll be going into,” said TPR President and CEO Joyce Slocum. “This is going to give us an opportunity to do a lot more than we currently do.”

Slocum cited its arts and culture coverage provided by Jack Morgan, border coverage by Fronterasand other beats and programming that touches on the Latino community – often pointing out inequities and injustice.

“Yes, they have some [Latino-focused] programming,” said Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. “But there are a lot of stories people want to hear, but TPR isn’t doing it right now and that’s a frustration for many of us.”

Sanchez also wants to make sure the Alameda is affordable to all San Antonians.

TPR, which would occupy the backstage area of the theater with an entrance near the multi-million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, will likely have reduced rent, Houston said, but the details are still being worked out.

As for parking, the City owns the nearby Frost bank parking garage and is working out a deal with the Vistana apartment complex for affordable spots.

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