Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.