Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Guinness World Records Museum, Tomb Raider 3D, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, apparel store Del Sol, and Grand Trolley Tours – all located on Alamo Plaza Street right across from the Alamo – will have a new landlord by the end of the year if all goes as the Texas General Land Office (GLO) plans.
The three buildings that house these tourist attractions and related businesses are under contract for purchase from Service Life and Casualty Insurance Co. of Austin by the state office, which is currently developing a master plan for the Alamo Plaza with the City of San Antonio. This plan will likely involve property renovations and the establishment of a museum.
Alamo Plaza, owned by the City, has long been a haven for tourists, street vendors, panhandlers, and the occasional evangelical zealot. Efforts to revitalize the plaza have been plentiful but none realized so far.
“The agreement has entered the due diligence period, during which the GLO will inspect the conditions of the buildings,” said GLO Press Secretary Brittany Eck. “If the transaction proceeds, we expect to close on the properties by the end of the year.”
The three buildings under contract are the Woolworth (518 E. Houston St.), Palace (319 Alamo Plaza) and Crockett (321 Alamo Plaza). The potential purchase was first reported by the Express-News on Monday.
Due to confidentiality agreements, Eck said the GLO could not release the total price of the buildings, but the purchase is the direct result of the Texas Legislature’s $31.5 million investment in preservation of the Alamo and redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza – $25 million of which was a one-time allocation for long-term efforts made on Sept. 1.
The length of existing leases is also confidential, but Eck said their terms will stay intact through the purchase.
“While there will be no immediate change, we anticipate the purchase of these buildings to be a significant consideration in the long-term master planning process,” she said. “(The purchase is) building enthusiasm and excitement on behalf of all the stakeholders.”
Phillips Entertainment Inc. is the Woolworth and Palace buildings’ main tenant and runs the Haunted Adventure, Tomb Rider, and Guinness World Records. The attractions management and consulting firm’s president and CEO Davis Phillips said the GLO hasn’t contacted him about the potential purchase.
“I keep reminding everybody,” Phillips said of the numerous conversations he’s had Tuesday with colleagues and employees, “we have very long-term leases.”
He said a common misconception is that the tourist attractions/businesses that line Alamo Plaza are against change. Phillips Entertainment is willing to entertain a master plan that involves moving some of its business, but only “if is focused on our future success as it is the Alamo’s.”
According to a study released in 2014, the annual economic impact of San Antonio’s hospitality industry, one of the local economy’s largest sectors, continues to increase from $8.1 billion in 2003 to $13.4 billion in 2013, a 66% increase. Maintaining the tourism industry’s economic impact should be a priority, Phillips said.
“If the buildings were gone today, the experience at the Alamo is still lacking. Folks from entertainment and tourism side of things that know how to take things and make them relevant, engaging, and exciting should be part of the (master plan) process,” he said. “Reading a wall is not an interactive experience, an item sitting in a case is not exciting.”
Phillips, who serves on the City’s Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee, also runs the Amazing Mirror Maze down the street on Alamo Plaza and the nearby Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and Texas Ranger Museum on Houston Street. Those properties are not part of the sale and Phillips does not manage the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Wax Museum or Odditorium. They are managed by Ripley Entertainment and also are located on prime real estate just across from the plaza’s southern extension.
Eck declined to comment on whether the GLO is looking into purchasing more properties near Alamo Plaza.
“The City has been working up a partnership with the General Land Office (which manages the Alamo) and the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee to make a master plan,” Center City Development and Operations Director Lori Houston told the Rivard Report during an interview last week. “Our goal is to connect our residents and visitors to the Alamo.”
The master plan will be presented to City Council for adoption within a year, likely next summer. The City is expected to contribute about $17 million in coming years to redevelopment of Alamo Plaza and surrounding areas.
The collaborative plan is an effort to better honor the Alamo and the Alamo Plaza as important historical and cultural sites that are now part of the serial World Heritage designation granted by UNESCO at its July meeting in Bonn, Germany. The plan is expected to include the construction of a museum and visitor center that tells the history of the site from its indigenous occupation, through the establishment there in the 1740s and 1750s of Mission San Antonio de Valero, its secularization by the Church in 1793, and later, as the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, which World Heritage delegates from Europe, Asia and South America cited in their unanimous support of the U.S. application.
British singer-songwriter Phil Collins donated to the Alamo what is considered to be the largest known private collection of Alamo and Texas Revolution artifacts last year, but it came with the stipulation that a proper, “Smithsonian-level” visitor center museum be established near the site in seven years. The Alamo Endowment board has been raising funds for such a center ever since.
This story was originally published on Tuesday afternoon.
*Top image: Properties on Alamo Street managed by Phillips Entertainment. Photo by Scott Ball.