Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A historic agreement between the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment to jointly fund and plan the redevelopment of the Alamo complex, plaza, and surrounding downtown district was unanimously approved by City Council on Thursday morning. There have been attempts at revitalizing San Antonio’s most famous landmarks in the past, but the agreement that will be officially signed during a ceremony at 5 p.m. in Alamo Plaza represents the most ambitious, comprehensive, and well-funded yet.
“Many have admitted: it’s about time,” said Becky Dinnin, the GLO’s Alamo director, reading a letter to City Council from Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
A lot has happened since the City initiated its own planning process with Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee in May 2014. San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial Missions, including the Alamo, have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the GLO took over management of the Alamo complex from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the state has purchases pending on nearby historic buildings. These developments, alongside the Alamo Endowment board’s commitment to raise hundreds of millions of dollars towards the planning and implementation efforts, expanded the scope of planning from the City-owned Alamo Plaza to include a total of 37 acres in downtown San Antonio.
Events celebrating the official World Heritage Inscription ceremony at Mission San José on Saturday begin Thursday evening and conclude on Sunday, but planning processes for land use and community design around the five missions will continue well beyond.
What was once an estimated $1 million plan for the plaza could be in the $10 million range for the Alamo Plaza Historic District, said Gene Powell, a local developer and chairman of the Alamo Endowment’s Remember the Alamo Foundation.
The vision and guiding principles from the original committee have not been abandoned, said Lori Houston, Center City Development and Operations Department director. The committee established that the famous story of 1836 Battle of the Alamo could be used as a “portal” for telling the stories of what happened before and after.
“The battle is what brings people to the Alamo,” Houston said. “But once they get there, we want to make sure they understand the rich history of the site.”
How those stories are told will ultimately be up to Mayor Ivy Taylor and Commissioner Bush, informed by groups and committees of both citizens and elected officials.
“We need to tell all the stories, even the stories we don’t like,” Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) said during an interview on Wednesday.
The total cost of the project is unknown, but could be as much as $300 million, Powell told the Council. “Our board is committed to raising however much is needed. … There’s not a number that scares us. Our funding opportunities are worldwide.”
Alamo Endowment, a private nonprofit spearheaded by influential developers, business, and community leaders, will oversee funding for the plan. Commissioner Bush chairs the board. VIA Board Chair Hope Andrade and award-winning pediatric surgeon Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, also the former chancellor of University of Texas System, will be joining the Alamo Endowment board in early 2016. In So far, the City has committed $17 million, the state approved $31 million, and the Endowment hopes to procure the rest.
The ethos behind the Joint Master Plan is essentially “have no small thought, make no small claims,” Powell said.
He emphasized the importance of local, state, national, and global input into the process, from comments from individual citizens to advice from cohorts that manage other historic sites around the world.
“We’ll also be working closely with the Texas Historical Commission,” he said.
The agreement calls for the completion of the so-called Joint Master Plan “no later than July 2016,” which also calls for the creation of a Management Committee, Alamo Advisory Group, Citizen Advisory Group, and an Executive Committee consisting of Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Bush who will each have veto power. Only the Citizen Advisory Group meetings will be open to the public.
The City has abandoned its negotiations with Fisher Heck Architects, the local firm that was working on a master plan, in September when the City and GLO expanded the scope and brought in the Alamo Endowment board into the process – changing the structure of authority.
This Joint Master Plan and implementation components will instead be developed by consultants selected and hired by the GLO and Alamo Foundation with advisement from the City. The Management Committee will seek out consultants and submit them for Mayor Taylor and Commissioner Bush’s approval.
“We’re going to assemble the dream team,” Powell said after the vote.
The GLO and Endowment will essentially become its own developer, hiring individual consultants rather than hiring a single architecture firm or developer who would hire their own sub-contractors/consultants.
“This is a better approach,”Treviño said Wednesday. This makes the process more responsive to the agreement and flexible to the needs of each organization, he said. “I’m calling it ‘problem solving procurement.’ … We want to bring in the best of the best – which doesn’t mean local firms (like Fisher Heck) are out of the picture.”
Treviño is a licensed architect and will serve on the Management Committee.
Principal Lewis Fisher told the Rivard Report that his firm will likely put its hat in the ring for a position on the master plan team. Regardless of the selection, he hopes that the plan stays true to telling the whole story behind the Alamo.
“It could be a very healing cultural experience,” Fisher said.
Councilmembers Ray Saldaña (D4) and Shirley Gonzalez (D5) were absent Thursday morning. The vote in favor of the agreement was a unanimous 8-0.
*Top image: Visitors line up in front of The Alamo. Photo by Scott Ball.