Alamo Plaza Attraction Owner Wants Greater Focus on Entertainment District

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David Phillips, Phillips Entertainment, Inc. CEO.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Davis Phillips, CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc., stands in front of Guinness World Records Museum, one of three Phillips attractions across from the Alamo.

Spring break is the busiest time of year for the attractions in Alamo Plaza, according to Davis Phillips, president and CEO of the company that owns and operates three of the main attractions located right across from the historic Alamo.

The school holiday provides 10 percent of the attractions’ annual revenue, Phillips said, so the estimated $350 million-$450 million plan to redevelop Alamo Plaza into a “world class” destination and move his businesses and others to a new entertainment district nearby has been on his mind for years.

But he’s concerned that the fate of his and other businesses is taking a back seat to other processes involved in the complicated plan and that time is running out ahead of the 2024 unveiling of a completed Alamo Plaza.

“We need to do more than one thing at a time,” Phillips told the Rivard Report on Thursday. When it comes to the entertainment district, “we haven’t moved the ball one inch down the football field.”

State and local officials, however, say there’s no cause for concern.

“I can appreciate that [Phillips] is anxious to get us to the next step, but we’re following our process,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. Treviño serves as co-chair of both the Alamo Citizens and Managagment committees made up of City, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and Alamo Endowment representatives. Those three entities have agreed to work together on planning and funding the massive redevelopment. The bulk of the plan will likely be funded through private and philanthropic dollars raised by the Alamo Endowment, a private nonprofit.

Several other pieces of the plan – including street, museum, and plaza design – need to be finalized before public-facing work can begin on the entertainment district, Treviño said.

That doesn’t mean nothing is being done on the new entertainment district, he said. “Things are happening in parallel but there’s still more negotiation that needs to occur.”

Those negotiations have to do with the speculative location of the new entertainment district. For now, the real estate process has to be behind the scenes for competitive reasons, he said.

Several major elements of the Alamo Master Plan were approved by City Council in October, including a lease agreement with the GLO. The plan includes closing portions of South Alamo, Houston, and Crockett streets to vehicular traffic, creating a main point of entry to the plaza, and repairing and relocating the Alamo Cenotaph.

The design is intended to inspire a better sense of history and reverence in order to tell a more complete story of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo and beyond.

A rendering of Alamo Plaza.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

A preliminary rendering shows a possible design for the future Alamo Plaza.

“We are juggling a juggernaut and there’s so many things that we’re thinking about at the same time,” Treviño said. Retail businesses, property owners, developers, and others – stakeholders beyond Phillips Entertainment Inc. – have to be engaged.

At least three sites are under serious consideration, sources say.

Phillips, who serves on the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, praised the City for its work, and he said he has been in communicating with local and State officials. But he’s not seeing the same sense of urgency for what he calls “part two” of the plan, the entertainment district.

“This part of the plan is just as complex as the Alamo part,” Phillips said. “At this point, we really need the State to get involved.”

Phillips Entertainment Inc. owns and operates Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Records Museum, and Tomb Rider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade – located on prime real estate –three historic buildings that the State purchased in 2015. The Alamo Master Plan calls for the Alamo museum to be located there. Phillips’ and other businesses still hold leases that last years longer than 2024.

“My goal is to survive and thrive when this is all said and done,” Phillips said, and that will mean maintaining close proximity to the Alamo and a healthy “cluster” of attractions, restaurants, and retail. 

“The businesses support the Alamo plan. We’re all going to be better off if this is going to go as planned,” he said. “But right now we’re living in a pool of uncertainty.”

Visitors led through a walking tour walk by Ripley's Haunted Adventure. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Visitors on a tour approach Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, across from the Alamo.

The attractions and family entertainment establishments are good for downtown, said Doug McDonald, CEO of the Alamo. People want to see and do “more than just the historical site.”

The Alamo draws more than 2 million people to the historic mission per year. Meanwhile, 18 surrounding attractions, restaurants, bars, tourist services, and retail shops host a collective 3.5 million visitors, according to data Phillips collected and aggregated from the business owners. Those are not unique visitors, as many people visit several businesses in the plaza, but they generate $28.8 million gross annual revenue, $3.6 million in local and state taxes, and $6.1 million in annual payroll for 468 employees, Phillips’ data shows.

It’s the Alamo that draws visitors to the area, Phillips said, and it’s the fun, family-friendly area attractions that keep them there for significantly longer than the historical, educational elements that the Alamo provides.

The goal of the master plan is to make the visitor experience at the Alamo more immersive and reverential – so they want to stay longer.

“We understand that everyone would like all the answers earlier,” McDonald said. “There’s simply a methodical process and sequence these things require. … If we’re giving people opportunities for input, then that takes a longer time than if a private developer was doing all of this themselves.”

Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald acknowledges that entertainment establishments are good for downtown San Antonio.

Taxpayer dollars require a higher level of taxpayer approval.

The GLO would have loved to get the master plan and lease agreement approved sooner, McDonald said, but they are following a process with rigorous public and stakeholder input.

“We can’t alter the sequence, and the timing is not exclusively under our control,” he said.

The architect for the Alamo museum will be selected in the next week or two and then comes the work to finalize the design for the plaza. Then they can start solving for how surrounding businesses will interact with the site, McDonald said.

“The resolution has to be informed by the design and the design is not determined,” he said.

14 thoughts on “Alamo Plaza Attraction Owner Wants Greater Focus on Entertainment District

  1. The future Alamo Plan is going to hurt the city and these businesses alike. This “process” that Trevino keeps speaking of excluded the voice of nearly all its constituents. It has been an disheartening experience. Trevino sold us all out to the state and he needs to be voted out.

    • What are talking about? There’s been a Public Process that’s been open to any and all that are willing to make the effort to participate. To be clear, NO ONE HAS BEEN EXCLUDED!

      Why is it that people feel the need to make such broad accusatory statements with apparently no bases in fact. It would be a completely different thing if someone said “I don’t like” and “I feel, etc.” but that’s not what I’m seeing here. The Alamo Master Plan and a prospective Entertainment District are issues that are too important to get slimed like this not to mention the overt political message that accompanies it.

      Let’s be real.

  2. Give me a break Davis. Reallly? Do not even with the my attractions bring value to the Alamo experience. Yes because having my kid stick his hand im wax is so unique and puro San Antonio. Welcome to the real world and gentrification for businesses. If its ok for it to happne on the east side its ok to happen to you. SMH

    • Gentrification is mostly about property tax increases due to property values rising in a hot real estate market. A government taking someone’s property is is not gentrification- it’s the reason the Alamo battle was fought in 1836. Come and take it!

  3. Poor Davis Phillips – “It’s the Alamo that draws visitors to the area … and it’s the fun, family-friendly area attractions that keep them there …” Uh, excuse me, it’s your crappo Tomb Raiders ride, junky Guinness Wax Museum mess and dirty T-shirt shops that have turned Alamo Plaza into an unremitting, fly-blown, scuzzy Flea Market. I’m all for you making a buck off the shoulders of our states most honored and distinguished memorial to the dead – but not on Alamo Plaza! Return some dignity and honor to this sacred site for all Texans.

    • I don’t know if you own property, but if you do, and the gov’t ever decided to take it from you b/c they have a “better use” for it, you may not be as strong an advocate for property seizure as you seem now.

      • But in this case, the state is not just taking Mr. Phillips’ land for no reason and without compensation. They are helping to develop the area around the Alamo to pay honor to the history of our city and state. And, they are creating a new entertainment district to help him maintain his business. The point of the article is not to complain about the use of eminent domain, it is to air Mr. Phillips’ concerns about the pace of planning for that new district.

        Not all government action is inherently good or evil. They must take into account the concerns of all stakeholders and sometimes there will be sides that do not get everything they want. That is the nature of all dealmaking in both the public and private arenas.

        • Thank you for the correction, but I think my overall point still stands. Whoever the landowner is does not seem to be fighting against the changes to the area around the Alamo. Perhaps I missed that reporting.

          • Ah, well that settles it. There’s not an issue of eminent domain, which is the idea in sa78205’s comment that I was responding to. I don’t believe that every use of eminent domain is automatically acceptable or inherently wrong; each instance must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. If it had been part of the arrangement to renovate Alamo Plaza, I think I would have supported it. However, since the state already owns those buildings it doesn’t even enter into the equation, which would seem to indicate that sa78205 was just trying to stoke apprehension of fear of government action just for the sake of fearmongering.

          • Phillips has been operating on the Plaza for 30+ years, leasing property and adding millions of dollars into improvements. The article highlights that the Entertainment District was promised but there has been no action communicated, so he is getting nervous that no District is forthcoming – there are 450 employees also getting nervous. The government can condemn your biz even as a lessor, and your million $ investment in improvements will be just as gone. Its not fearmongering- a biz owner w/ 30 years of strong biz, plans for his next 30 years- if the City does not develop the Entertainment Dist. as they promised, he and a bunch of jobs disappear- I understand the public’s need for the “better good”, but there is a real cost of jobs and income lost by these moves if gov’t promises are broken. I’d be worried to if I were him. “Hi, I am from the gov’t and I am here to help you”.

  4. Anyone that owns property directly across the street from THE SHRINE OF TEXAS LIBERTY is at the mercy of City, County, State and Federal laws. Geographically you’ve held an unfair economic advantage for decades now. The state has already bought three of the buildings across from the Alamo, fair and square.

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