City Council Approves Historic Alamo Plaza Redevelopment Plan

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Alamo employees Christina Robertson (center left), Jessica Gonzales, and others cheer after City Council approves the Alamo Redevelopment Plan.

Edward A. Ornelas for the Rivard Report

Alamo employees Christina Robertson (center left), Jessica Gonzales, and others cheer after City Council approves the Alamo Redevelopment Plan.

City Council voted 9-2 Thursday to approve a historic overhaul of the Alamo Plaza that includes a plan to create a single entry point to a portion of the public plaza and relocate the Alamo Cenotaph, two of the most contentious elements of the multimillion-dollar plan.

Councilmen John Courage (D9) and Clayton Perry (D10) voted against the plan after more than three hours of passionate citizen testimony – 57 people signed up to speak before Council – and two hours of Council members' comments.

"When the 2.1 million visitors [per year] come to the grounds of the Alamo," Land Commissioner George P. Bush told City Council before its vote, “they are underwhelmed. "Instead of coming onto a historic battlefield of valor, they are welcomed by nothing but distraction." 

This plan, Bush said, changes that and gives those who lived, fought, and died there the respect they deserve. And while many have tried over the past decades to improve the plaza, he added, "none have gotten this far."

Technically, City Council voted to close adjacent streets, pursue contracts for the repair and relocation of the Cenotaph, and approve a 50-year lease and management agreement with two 25-year renewals, with the Texas General Land Office (GLO). These actions allow the plan as a whole to move forward.

Officials hope to complete the redevelopment in 2024, exactly 300 years after the Alamo, originally the Spanish colonial Mission San Antonio de Valero, was established.

"This is a historic moment and a turning point that finally gives the Alamo the reverent treatment it deserves,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "The commercial nature of Alamo Plaza [as it is today] has made that difficult."

There have been several protests against relocating the Cenotaph roughly 500 feet south, and many local urban designers have vocally opposed fencing off the historic plaza footprint in front of the iconic mission to manage access aimed at preventing "distractions" such as protests, street preachers, souvenir vendors, and other casual pedestrian traffic that exists today.

Courage suggested an amendment to the proposed lease agreement that would keep the Alamo Cenotaph in its place, and Perry later proposed an amendment to include no less than six access points to the plaza.

"There is no legitimate need to move the Cenotaph," said Courage, who also objected to managed access to the historic plaza. Other plan elements, such as programming and heightened security, could help resolve "that underwhelming feeling that people have."

Those changes would have led the GLO to abandon the long-negotiated lease agreement, said Hector Valle, special counsel for the GLO.

Such amendments would come outside the transparent, cooperative process between the City and GLO, Valle said, and "violate this historic partnership." 

Perry and Courage were made aware of that before they proposed their amendments. They were the only members to cast votes in favor of each others' motions.

This rendering shows the primary entrance to the portion of the plaza directly in front of the Alamo. When the Alamo museum is closed at night, five more access points will open.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This rendering shows the primary entrance to the portion of the plaza directly in front of the Alamo. When the Alamo museum is closed at night, five more access points will open.

In partnership with the GLO and Alamo Endowment, the City will close a portion of South Alamo Street and other surrounding streets to vehicular traffic; re-route parades; and study the possibilities for a world-class museum in renovated historic buildings across the street from the Alamo. The plaza will remain free to enter, but visitors will access it from a single point inside or near the museum.

Most of the estimated $350 million to $450 million plan will be funded through private donations to the Alamo Endowment, a private nonprofit which can start fundraising in earnest now that a plan has been approved, officials said.

So far, the Texas Legislature has allocated $106 million to the Alamo and Long Barrack restoration and development of the master plan, the City of San Antonio has contributed $38 million toward infrastructure improvement surrounding the plaza, and the Alamo Endowment is committed to raising at least $200 million to implement the plan.

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, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, and has evolved to incorporate community feedback through more than 200 public meetings in San Antonio and throughout the state.

"This should not be a drive-through experience," said Treviño, who served on the Alamo Citizens Advisory and Management committees and is credited with working with Fiesta San Antonio and parade officials to reach a compromise on the new parade routes and ceremonial activity zone for the annual festivities. The plan doesn't remove the more than 10,000 years of history on the site; rather “we’re simply trying to make more room" for it, Treviño said. 

The underlying vision and guiding principles of the plan were developed in 2014 by the Citizens Advisory Committee, he said, and the master plan follows them. The interpretive design no longer includes the controversial "glass walls," a more radical Cenotaph relocation, and a tree-less plaza that was suggested last year.

The San Antonio Conservation Society and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects say the entire public plaza should remain open to the public. The Conservation Society collected more than 7,000 signatures of citizens concerned about the plan that was proposed.

A rendering of Alamo Plaza.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This preliminary rendering shows a fenced-off Alamo Plaza – the materials to be used are yet to be determined.

The City should not give up one of its greatest "civic spaces" without knowing more details about what that will look like, Conservation Society President Susan Beavin said. The group has also asked Council members to commit to preserving the historic buildings. Many have, but that commitment is not included in the lease agreement. Click here to download the version approved by City Council.

Alamo Citizen Advisory tri-chair Sue Ann Pemberton said the elements approved by Council on Thursday did not include the final details because they have yet to be worked out.

"We all have many questions and the design is not perfect, but the design is not finished," Pemberton said.

The Historic and Design Review Commission granted conceptual approval to the plaza design and Cenotaph relocation last week. Alamo designers, hired by the City and GLO, will come before the commission at a later date for final approval. HDRC decisions must receive final approval from City Manager Sheryl Sculley or the director of the Office of Historic Preservation – or Sculley could defer the matter to a Council vote.

"Which side you choose is basically going to seal your fate," said Brandon Burkhardt, president of This Is Texas Freedom Force, who has joined the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association (ADDA) in protest of moving the Cenotaph. Burkhardt said his organization would campaign against Council members who voted in favor of the relocation. "Their political days in Texas are numbered. ... We will make sure that they are not re-elected," he said.

As a result of threatening messages directed at Alamo officials, public meetings regarding the plan featured enhanced security measures, they have said.

“There will be a day, there will be a time that we’re going to have to confront this,” ADDA President Lee Spencer White told City Council, referring to when the Cenotaph is moved. White said the so-called "threats" are "trumped up" and should not result in law enforcement's undue aggression or violence toward protestors. "I don't need any more Alamo defender blood on that sacred ground.”

Asked by the Rivard Report if he expects to see further protests surrounding the Alamo and the Cenotaph, Nirenberg said, "I would expect nothing less from the Shrine of Texas Liberty ... I would expect controversy and discussion to continue long into the future.

"Years from now we will remember the date that San Antonio took deliberate action to preserve the Alamo for future generations," he added. "That, to me, will be the story of this City Council."

The Cenotaph's relocation is required as part of the plan, Assistant City Manger Lori Houston said, to honor the original footprint of the mission's plaza and prevent it from obstructing views of the Alamo and Long Barrack. The 1930s sculpture honors the people who died defending the Alamo and is not part of the original footprint.

Once repaired, the Cenotaph will still be "a centerpiece to Alamo Plaza," Houston said, at its new location in front of the Menger Hotel.

Other descendants of Alamo defenders, however, support the plan – including the Cenotaph relocation. "Please go ahead and vote yes," said Angel Crockett, fourth-great-granddaughter of Davy Crockett.

The design team last year dropped a previous proposal to move the Cenotaph to a location closer to Market Street and the San Antonio River after hearing fierce opposition, Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said. "Public engagement is what kept it in the plaza."

Brandon Burkhardt, This Is Texas Freedom Force President, rallies the protesters.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Brandon Burkhardt, This Is Texas Freedom Force president, rallies a group of protesters who oppose moving the Alamo Cenotaph.

A rendering showing the relocated Alamo Cenotaph at night.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This design rendering shows the relocated Alamo Cenotaph at night.

He praised Burkhardt, who had already left the meeting after hearing Courage and Perry's amendments fail, and other protesters for leading the charge to keep the Cenotaph closer to the Alamo.

"It's not that I'm fully satisfied with the Cenotaph [location]," Brockhouse said, but he refused to jeopardize the entire plan "over my personal [opinions]."

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) has purview over the historic buildings owned by the State of Texas, where the "world-class" Alamo museum will be located. A third-party consultant will analyze the architectural and historical inventory of the buildings and produce recommendations on how to move forward – to demolish all three, save some, or keep all as part of the museum.

HDRC will have a chance to review THC's recommendations on the museum's design, and THC must review plans for the relocation of the Cenotaph, according to officials.

The lease agreement, which allows the City to maintain ownership of the plaza, has a conflict resolution process built into it so the City can challenge management practices if the State veers outside of the established master plan guidelines.

The State has the option to purchase the property from the City at the market-rate price, but City Council would have to approve that sale, according to the lease.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) hugs his mother, Rosario Rincon after the City Council approved the Alamo redevelopment plan.

Edward A. Ornelas for the Rivard Report

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) hugs his mother, Rosario Rincon after the City Council approved the Alamo redevelopment plan.

"This is your City at work," Treviño said after the vote. "This shows that when challenged with incredible opportunity to really make history ... we can partner to create a place that is going to honor the history of the Alamo – that is finally going to do something that hasn't been accomplished for generations.

"It's about time."

16 thoughts on “City Council Approves Historic Alamo Plaza Redevelopment Plan

  1. Since I was 18 & visited Alamo Village in Brackettville during one of the pre-rodeo trail rides, I have longed to see the grounds of the “real Alamo” look more authentic. It saddened me to admit that I preferred the movie set. I am now 68. For 50 years I’ve been waiting to see Alamo Plaza restored to a more original state. Hallelujah!!!! Naysayers, get a life!

  2. I am so glad that the naysayers and people opposed to any change at all who so often hinder progress in San Antonio didn’t get their way for once. Alamo Plaza has been a sad joke and an embarrassment to the city for too long. This plan will finally show the Alamo the respect its history deserves and provide a world-class historic site for downtown San Antonio. This will ultimately benefit all of San Antonio. I am proud of Mayor Nirenberg and the Council for finally making a proper Alamo restoration happen after so many years. Even if the naysayers decide to vote against them, don’t worry; plenty of us will be voting *for* them.

  3. “The Cenotaph’s relocation is required as part of the plan, Assistant City Manger Lori Houston said, to honor the original footprint of the mission’s plaza and prevent it from obstructing views of the Alamo and Long Barrack. The 1930s sculpture honors the people who died defending the Alamo and is not part of the original footprint.”
    Must remove the Defenders’ Spirit of Sacrifice empty tomb centennial memorial from the historic battlefield soaked with their blood, just to add NEW statues and markers, even including Santa Anna’s soldiers, along with lots of trees, to the original footprint?!?Nothing reverent or authentic about this plan!!!!

  4. They seem to insist that there must be two parts to the plaza. One for the Alamo and one not. This divisiveness will show in the final design. It is not necessary to divide the space or segregate the users with gates or fences, either. Such a misconception will affect the urban significance of the place.

  5. The city has been, from the beginning of this planning, shortchanged in representation. When the primary area under discussion was and is city property, the representation was set at two out of six members of the principal committee, and those two selected by the previous mayor were Mr. Trevino, representing 1/10th of the city’s districts, and the city manager, representing none — not an elected representative of any area of the city, a professional in her field but not a designer, nor a historian, nor a long-time resident. The initial proposal we learned about was the impractical glass walls enclosing a desert landscape bereft of trees and with the suggestion of an acequia branching from nowhere. The historic location of the south gate at the time of the battle was marked by what looked like a giant square of plexiglas. This should have signaled even to the GLO commissioner and the members of the Alamo Endowment that the wrong design team had been contracted, a team with little knowledge of the local landscape or its history or its climate. Now we have tall slender trees of unknown origin growing from stone surfaces throughout the plaza, evoking the original battlefield even less. The advisory committee voting on the newer plan has included paid staff of the GLO and the Alamo Endowment’s management group. No attempt has been made to give broader representation to the city. The solution to the Cenotaph problem is to push it out of the way, never mind its inappropriate placement, historically and aesthetically, in front of the Menger Hotel. The balance of power has been from the beginning with the money, and the crafted planning to keep the interests of the city at a minimum, and not with history supported and expressed in good design. We started out with hopes that the original battlefield could be more clearly marked and more realistically recalled, and that a more dignified setting could be arranged opposite the original buildings still standing. Neither hope suggested walling off the plaza to the people of San Antonio and trying to control how we all must think about the Alamo.

  6. This plan does not affect the Alamo itself, just how the public accesses it. Those of you pro-ABC reactionaries who act as if the Alamo is being “done in” by the new plan are stuck in your own rigidity. Do you think Travis, Bowie & Crockett would approve of the arcade of foolishness across the street? Do you think they would care whether the Cenotaph was sited to the left or the right of the Alamo. Why do YOU care so much?
    As a life-long SA resident, I am embarrassed by the expanse of tacky arcade-like operations across the street from the Alamo. Show it respect by correcting how things have deteriorate.
    And vote NO on AB&C — they will cause SA to shrink back to being a backward over-sized small town.

  7. Hard to believe that we have given up the place in our city that was enjoyed by all. We were happy when we eliminated the glass walls, and now we are fenced out. How did that happen? When architects and urban planners of San Antonio find the wall out plan inappropriate, and all the rest of us likewise, how did this happen? Again, we are told that we are just not sensitive. Yes we are sensitive. We loved this plaza, and now it is going to be a walled compound, accessible only after we are hushed into an attitude of “proper” reverence. This whole thing has been a “We know better than you mere unenlightened. You just do not know what is good for you. ” project.
    In my humble and unenlightened opinion.

    • I think it happened when our city manager became the manager of the city council as well as the city government. Did any other single individual assume as much control when it came to the final decisions of the mayor and the council? Mr. Trevino took the bows, but you can thank Mrs. Sculley; I expect Mr. Bush has.

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