Citizen Committee Approves Plan for Alamo Plaza Redesign

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Keri Hillyer, research director for This is Texas Freedom Force, is escorted out of the council chambers by police.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Keri Hillyer, research director for This is Texas Freedom Force, is escorted out of the council chambers by police.

With almost no discussion of a plan they have spent years studying, members of the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee on Thursday quickly approved the proposed design for Alamo Plaza’s multimillion dollar redevelopment.

The committee voted unanimously for street closures, unanimously for a new Fiesta parade route, and unanimously on moving the Alamo Cenotaph – despite a sea of “Don’t do it” signs and shouting from audience members. Ninety-two percent of committee members voted in favor of managed plaza access for a formal point of entry, and 96 percent approved of an analysis of nearby historic buildings to become an Alamo museum, while the Alamo site plan, and a master lease agreement were approved unanimously.

The vote follows almost three months of study and discussion of the latest version of the plan, which has been so controversial among certain stakeholder groups that committee members requested that the votes on each element remain anonymous indefinitely out of concern for their safety.

“They want to be able to go home in peace,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said Thursday afternoon. Treviño is a tri-chair of the 29-member committee – of which 26 members were present for the vote. One member, Phil Bakke, sent a proxy, Wendell Hall, to vote on his behalf. Mardi Arce of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and Frank Ruttenberg recused themselves, and Warren Wilkensen was absent for the vote.

The Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee listens to the presentation.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee listens to a presentation.

Many of the committee members have been working on the plan since 2014; at least two worked on a previous effort in 1994. Officials attributed the lack of discussion from the committee Thursday night to that longstanding familiarity with the plan and issues surrounding the Alamo.

“I just want to say thank you,” Treviño said to the committee members. “This is the beginning of [a long] process.”

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) manages the Alamo and Long Barrack. The City owns the plaza and surrounding streets. Closing and conveying the streets to the GLO would require a City Council vote, which Mayor Ron Nirenberg estimated will take place in mid-October after the Historic and Design Review Commission and Planning Commission make their own recommendations.

Recent public meetings and social media posts have become heated enough to warrant enhanced security measures, including bag checks and metal detectors.

More than 100 people attended the meeting at City Council chambers, a location selected because of its established security procedures, Treviño said earlier this week. It was originally slated to take place at UTSA’s downtown campus.

About six uniformed San Antonio Police officers surveyed the crowd, and officials suggested that more were in plain clothes amongst the audience. Many attendees were there to protest the more controversial elements of the plan: closing off sections of South Alamo and East Houston street, repairing the Alamo Cenotaph and relocating it about 500 feet south, and managing pedestrian access to the plaza through a new museum’s entrance.

A police officer watches the proceedings of the presentation and series of votes.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A police officer watches the proceedings of the presentation and series of votes.

Most were there to protest moving the cenotaph. A half dozen people were removed for shouting out in protest during the meeting, which did not feature a public comment session.

The 1930s memorial to the defenders who died in the 1836 Battle of the Alamo currently sits adjacent to the Long Barrack. Designers have said it blocks or distracts from some views of the church. It’s also a more modern addition to the plaza that honors one side of the battle. Descendants of the defenders and members of the activist group This is Texas Freedom Force say the hollow tomb is sacred and that moving it would disrespect the dead.

Officials removed This Is Texas Freedom Force Vice President Brandon Burkhart from the meeting after he shouted at committee members and Treviño for supporting the relocation.

“First and foremost the advisory board needed to know [our protest] because they’ve been shielded from a lot of the comments against moving the Cenotaph and parts of the plan,” Burkhart told the Rivard Report after the meeting. An example of that, he said, was Treviño presenting letters from various groups – including the Fiesta Commission – that were in support of the plan.

Brandon Burkhardt, This Is Texas Freedom Force President, speaks his opinion during the voting.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Brandon Burkhardt, This Is Texas Freedom Force vice president, stands to speak during the meeting.

“We can show him thousands of letters [petitions] … that do not support his plan,” Burkhart said. “We knew they were going to [approve] this no matter what. … Now they have no clout as far as the people of Texas, and we’re going to make that known.”

His organization and others are planning legal action, he said. That could be similar to the current lawsuit looming over the Confederate statue that was removed from Travis Park.

“The Alamo defenders didn’t quit just because they were outnumbered and faced unbeatable odds. They stayed and fought,” he said. “We don’t have the word quit in our bloodline or in our vocabulary.”

Managing access to the site is a design feature that some urban planners and architects have taken issue with because they’d like to see it continue to be part of daily civic life. In order for the plaza to essentially become an outdoor exhibit of the museum, designers have said, it can no longer support all manner of activities at all times of the day. Visitors will have to enter through the museum during hours of operation and then through six gates that open in the evening. Protests and other activities common in the plaza would no longer be allowed and instead would likely occur near the Cenotaph.

When the Alamo museum closes, the public could still walk into the plaza through six access points.

Courtesy / The Alamo

When the Alamo museum closes, the public could still walk into the plaza through six access points.

Leaders of the Battle of Flowers Association, Fiesta Flambeau Parade Association, and the Texas Cavaliers – once strongly opposed to the proposed re-routing of parades and ceremonial activities – have agreed to changes to accommodate the plaza’s redevelopment.

The committee’s recommendation moves to the six-member Alamo Management Committee, which will make its own recommendation to the Executive Committee made up of two members, each with veto power: Nirenberg and Land Commissioner George P. Bush. The management committee vote could happen as soon as next week, Treviño said.

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee for the many hours they have put into the process of transforming the Alamo into a site that gives proper deference to its history,” Nirenberg said in an email. “[Some] members of the committee have literally spent years volunteering their time. I thank them for their service, and I look forward to their continued involvement in the next phase of development.

“The committee’s approval marks important progress, and we still have several key steps ahead. We cannot afford to rush, and I will do my part to ensure that we get it right. I am confident the final plan will make us all proud.”

Also among the crowd were a few people holding “Keep Calm y Join Manos” (hands) signs that were passed out by Alamo staff.

The Alamo Master Plan is being developed under an agreement between the City, the state’s General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment. Each organization has two representatives on the Alamo Management Committee. The nonprofit endowment has pledged to raise private funds for the estimated $420 million project.

“This is history in the making to get us back to what the Alamo should be,” Bryan Preston, GLO director of communications, said after the vote. “It’s long overdue and we’re happy to be where we are at.

“I was not surprised at all by the overwhelming votes,” he said. “The fact is this committee has been working on this project for four years. … Tonight’s vote reflects the hard work that they’ve done.”

Another key element of the plan is for a museum at the western edge of the plaza, where three historic buildings currently sit. They will be analyzed for their historic and structural viability, and a determination will be made about incorporating them into the museum. One, all, or none of the buildings could be demolished, designers have said. The Management Committee has begun the process of hiring consultants for the building analysis and museum design. Meanwhile, work will begin soon on the renovation and preservation of the Alamo church itself.

Committee member Ann McGlone, who also served on the 1994 committee, said she could not support the building study because it leaves open the possibility of their demolition.

“I hate to go down that path and I hate to predict that,” McGlone said.

 

24 thoughts on “Citizen Committee Approves Plan for Alamo Plaza Redesign

  1. This is a good plan. I am glad we are moving forward. There will always be loud voices of opposition. These voices have been heard. But this represents a much improved Alamo. When completed, we will say “why didn’t we do this sooner?” Thanks to the committee members for their service.

  2. I’m a little dissapointed that they ended up adding closable entrances and exits to the plaza, hopefully those can be removed soon, but my god what is up with the cenotaph people??

    • “In order for the plaza to essentially become an outdoor exhibit of the museum, designers have said, it can no longer support all manner of activities at all times of the day.”

      Why does it need to be an outdoor exhibit? Let it continue to be public space!

  3. This separation of the Alamo proper from the plaza is just obnoxious. The response to the first attempt to do this was overwhelming and negative. We use the plaza, O.K.?

  4. This political movement to relocate, destroy monuments is sickening As to the question “what’s up with Cenotaph people,” if you have to ask, you do not understand this strong arm political tactic to placate to the PC culture. The PC culture is designed to eradicate and cleanse certain parts of history that they find offensive or don’t agree with! It’s sick! Trevenio and others that are patting themselves on the back demonstrate the self serving attitude they have towards themselves! They care absolutely NOTHING for preserving ALL of the history of Texas Independence! They are beyond pathetic!

    • No pc culture in the moving, not REmoving the monument which has my 3X great grandfather’s name on it. The city will not be in charge of it being repaired, names added, misspellings fixed, and placing at the south location. Texas hidtory will be yold bigger than it ever has due to the largest museum on the Texas Revolution and Alamo battle that the Alamo has never had.

      • Forrest, I hope your publicity and brown nose relationship with Bryan and George Bush is worth you completely isolating yourself from the other Andrew Kent descendants, we have fought to leave the cenotaph in it’s place because if our grandfather’s sacrifice wasn’t worth a place on the battleground then why did he give his life and why do we even honor this place. The Alamo is nothing more than a building is you take out their sacrifice. Shame on you and if in the moving process something should happen to his headstone I hope you crawl under a big rock and don’t come out because all the defender’s descendants will be looking for you and your cohorts

        • So this is what you say. Like lee called tha shrine a pile of rocks. Isolating from the other Kent family? Ha! You and Meaghan( “I forgot”) didn’t show. How do YOU know what the rest of the Kent family thinks? You mean the Andersons, Wicks. I talked to almost ALL of the family at the reunion and they were disappointed that the plan wasnt presented to them, just like I thought. Ray’s threat angered Judy. But it would only have affected a few people showing up, two of which didn’t show anyway. That won’t happen again. Maybe instead of throwing bombs from the outside, you should spend more time up here going to meetings, meeting with council, Mayor, and others instead of Goliad that has nothing to do with Kent, Lee rallies that are attended by the same few people( and VERY FEW descendants), and car events if you REALLY cared as much as you claim you do. Lee is alienating ADDA members with her gang rape comments. I talk to many all the time. Aligning herself with a felon, and multi DWI TITFF Brandon just shows how desperate she is after talking about drinking. You care more about the monument than you do the ACTUAL monument, the shrine and battlefield. You know why we don’t have the ceremony inside like we used to? Lee’s mouth and her berating Alamo staff.

      • Forrest,

        The above article made it perfectly clear:

        “Designers have said [the cenotaph] honors one side of the battle.”

        What do you think the term “Political Correctness” means within this context? Why should it matter to the P.C. Police that the good guys won, UNLESS an overarching desire amongst the committee members is a [cough] “pluralistic” revision of historical fact?

        Paula’s perspective is absolutely correct and her comments – ALL of them – are spot on. Conversely, reading your remarks left me profoundly disappointed.

        Personally, I cannot WAIT to move away from Bexar County! Yes, everyplace in Texas has its own set of issues. My hometown of Dallas is certainly no exception! Still, in my nearly 60 years to date, I have NEVER lived in a city which is less “Texan” than San Antonio!

        I want to move where citizens and civic “leaders” aren’t ashamed of Texas and everything our homeland represents!

        And all this time I thought it would end up being San Antonio’s pathological fear of rail-based transit that’d finally drive me away (no pun intended)!

        Oh, well. Good-bye.

        Garl Boyd Latham

        • Don’t let the door hit you as you return to your mythical homeland where ever this place might exist.

          San Antonio is probably the most ‘Texan’ of any Texas city because of its Native American and Hispanic roots that represent a part of American history that has long been ignored.

          This is the San Antonio culure and thinking that you find objectionable.

          There were no ‘good guys’ who fought at the Alamo only men fighting for their way of life.

          • Dear Native:

            You’re making several unjustifiable assumptions; but, sadly, I suppose that’s to be expected. After all, anyone who speaks against the dominant culture is likely to be labeled a Deplorable [tm].

            Regarding all those “fighting for their way of life,” I’d simply suggest – for future reference – that people who wish to serve a cause with impunity choose their leaders well.

            At the Alamo, the Mexicans on the front lines served a heartless, bloodthirsty tyrant. The Texians did not. Therefore, I used the phrase “good guys” in a justifiable manner.

            Good day to you, sir.

            Garl Boyd Latham

        • You do realize that Dallas was a leader in PC, removing their historical Confederate statues, don’t you? Good luck with their politics and traffic.

  5. Is the name of this committee really the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee? One citizen? Who established the committee, who are the members, who appointed them, who do they represent, and who do they advise? It seems many people thought they were the group that would listen to the suggestions of the citizens. To what group can citizens offer their own suggestions and hopes for the Alamo? Should they write to their own city council member, the mayor, and the country judge? This committee seems to have ignored the recent statements by the mayor and county judge regarding Alamo Plaza. Where on the levels of authority over the Alamo and over the plaza does this committee stand? Could we have a clarification of all those levels of authority — the GLO, the city of San Antonio, the Alamo Endowment and its subcommittees — and the names of all those involved, from the top?
    Note: The streets in San Antonio that run north and south in the downtown area are traditionally divided by Commerce Street, not Houston Street. The street that runs next to Alamo Plaza should not be called South Alamo.

  6. The BexarCAD web does not show who owns Alamo Plaza. The property ID has “null”, which the County Rep told me means “private”. There are no deeds recorded on the web showing who owns it. All this info should be “public” and the citizens should be allowed to vote on all Alamo changes statewide. The Cenotaph which is a historical monument should not be moved. I think this is all a public funds grab by local groups. We need to see where ALL the funds go.

    • Null does not always mean “private” it is owned by the city as from the Cenotaph to the Gazebo which is divide between Alamo street and Alamo East and East Houston and Crocket streets, the deed at the court house is in Vol. 238, pages 380-382 Deed records of Bexar county, Texas. the N.C.B. is 772 for the Park Property the city only owns approx. 1.11 acres in front of the Alamo and the state owns the rest.

  7. Richard Brewer,
    you really need to clarify it when you come out with an absurd, ridiculous statement like, “I think this is all a public funds grab by local groups. We need to see where ALL the funds go”.
    What “local groups” are you referring to? And a public funds “grab” – to what end? to do what? If you want to know where all the funds go, ask. There’s nothing secret or sinister here. Most of the money will be donated anyway.
    All you people really need to stop with the incredibly ignorant statements.
    And Alpha – really? This has been going on for two years and you’re just now asking these questions? This has all been public knowledge since the beginning, where have you been? And by the way, there is no “country” judge. And just to let you know (again), Alamo Plaza belongs to the City, the Alamo Chapel and Long Barrack and grounds belong to the State.

  8. How many times do the people of San Antonio have to say that Alamo Plaza is just that: a public gathering place, a plaza. We have traveled full circle from glass walls to having to get to the Alamo and our plaza through a museum. This restricted access proposal is like a curse. No matter how clear the citizens are that we must keep our wonderful vibrant space open, for all citizens, the « expert planners » force their suffocating vision back on the Plaza.
    Where, in the great cities of the world, has a legendary public space been closed to the people? We are about to do that.

  9. I painstakingly left a detailed reply regarding the loss of public pedestrian access and hit submit. It is not there. This is discouraging.

    • Hi there,

      Some comments are flagged for approval based on our system’s algorithms, sometimes because of language content and often simply due to length – that seems to be the case with yours. As long as comments aren’t disparaging or libel, they are approved. Rest assured, yours now is. Thank you for your understanding.

  10. Closing another downtown street must only have been encouraged & supported by people who do not spend much time downtown & do not try to drive through it every single day. A joke! A travesty! A waste of money!

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