Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
As experts work on a revised draft of a plan to revamp Alamo Plaza, an advisory committee on Tuesday heard some of the background research underpinning the move to reshape San Antonio’s most iconic site.
The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee consists of 28 members appointed by City and State officials to advise the Alamo Master Plan Management Committee, which is now weighing changes to an Alamo master plan unveiled in early June by a team of consultants.
On Thursday, the committee heard about a branding study by consultant H2R Market Research, a traffic study by Pape-Dawson Engineers, and past archaeological work done on the Alamo and its surroundings.
Many committee members had not seen the research before Tuesday, and several members asked to see the reports on paper so they could better advise the Management Committee.
“I just don’t want to be part of a committee that 50 years from now they look back and say, ‘Why’d they let them tear all that stuff up?’” said committee member Ann McGlone, an architect who had served on a 1994 committee studying Alamo Plaza.
Some ideas in the draft plan – closing South Alamo and East Houston streets to vehicular traffic, demolishing historic buildings across from the Alamo, and moving the 1936 Cenotaph to another location on Alamo Plaza – have proved controversial. Tuesday's meeting at the Witte Museum drew dozens of people, many holding signs opposing the street closures and movement of the Cenotaph.
“The committee is considering all public feedback as we move forward,” City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who co-chairs the committee, told the crowd. “We are listening to your input, and input matters.”
The planning process included rounds of public meetings in mid-June, with another planned for next Wednesday. Thursday’s meeting had no public comment period, much to the chagrin of some attendees whose shouting at times stopped the meeting.
It was a sign of the strong feelings some residents have about the former mission that in 1836 became a battleground where Texans fought to withstand a siege by the oncoming Mexican Army.
“We’re looking for honest history,” committee member George Cisneros told the crowd, to whoops and applause. “If it’s always about the visitor experience and what we have to do to make it new…we’re really not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Sue Ann Pemberton, a University of Texas at San Antonio architecture assistant professor who co-chairs the committee, pointed out that “visitors” in the plan’s context means everyone who visits the Alamo, not just out-of-town tourists.
Cisneros was speaking about the results of the branding study presented by Benjamin Mowris, director of operations at H2R Market Research, which conducted a survey of more than 2,000 local, Texan, and national visitors about their perceptions of the Alamo.
The study found strong support for creating more “reverent space” at the site, adding more trees and shade, and more clearly delineating the boundaries of the original 1836 battlefield, Mowris said at the meeting.
Much of the understanding of the historic footprint of the original mission and battleground is the result of archival research and a series of archaeological digs in the area, the most recent in 2016.
City Archaeologist Kay Hindes showed slides of some items she and colleagues unearthed in the area. They include some remnants of war, like the tip of a Mexican non-commissioned officer’s sword blade that may have been broken in battle.
But more common were reminders of the day-to-day life of people who lived at the site, including Native Americans. Archaeologists found most indigenous potsherds, or ceramics fragments, near the west wall, which is known from archival research as the place where most Native Americans lived, Hindes explained.
“In this case, the archaeology completely backed up the archival record,” Hindes said. “And when that happens, it’s always so gratifying.”
More controversial was a traffic modeling study by Pape-Dawson Engineers. Gene Dawson, the firm’s president, told the crowd about the results of traffic modeling study that found that closing Houston Street near Alamo Plaza would reduce congestion in nearby intersections.
Dawson also advocated for converting Losoya Street west of the Alamo into a two-way street to better connect Broadway and South Alamo Street and move traffic through downtown. That would involve converting two seven-foot parking lanes and two 11-foot drive lanes into three 12-foot drive lanes.
That led some committee members to wonder how such a change would affect downtown businesses.
“I’ve loaded beer trucks in my life and I know I need 16 feet from the curb to get that keg off the truck on the streetside,” Cisneros said. “Those are concerns I still think we need to talk about.”
These and other issues will continue to come up in the planning process. Alamo planners will hold another public input session at 6:30 p.m. on July 18 at Thomas Jefferson High School.
The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee was originally supposed to hold another meeting next week, but that has been canceled, Pemberton confirmed. The committee will meet again after the Management Committee has a chance to meet again, she said.