Scott Ball / Rivard Report
New renderings of the reimagined Alamo Plaza and the project’s economic impact report were presented to City Council Wednesday, and reactions were predominantly positive. Officials estimate that the project could as much as double the annual economic impact the Alamo has on San Antonio today.
The preliminary renderings show continued progress in the multi-million dollar Alamo Master Plan, an undertaking of the City of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment to redevelop the historic site as it once was centuries ago.
While Wednesday’s presentation was about the physical layout of the project, master planners will continue to work over the next few months to gather more information relating to the Mission’s cultural history and determine how to incorporate those stories into the overall plans.
There are three sets of layers in the project – physical, historical, and cultural layers, said George Skarmeas, design director at Preservation Design Partnership (PDP), the firm hired to lead the design.
“If we’re not successful in communicating all three sets of layers, our job is not going to be done correctly,” he said.
The plans will go before City Council for conceptual approval on May 11. Plan implementation will begin in June.
“We all believe this project is going to make a huge impact and set an example for so many,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), also a tri-chair of the Alamo Management Committee. “… This recognizes the diverse history, the incredible layers that we know exist in our incredible, diverse community.”
Regarding the site layout, one concern from the community involves the large, barren courtyard that is proposed to be reestablished in front the mission, Mayor Ivy Taylor said. Renderings show a large expanse of land in front of the structure, bordered by glass walls that provide a rough outline of the Alamo’s original courtyard boundary – but there’s no shade.
“It’s very hot here in the summer months,” Taylor said. “How will the space allow for people to be comfortable?”
While the actual courtyard will be without shade cover, the areas around it, including the plaza in front of Menger Hotel, will be converted to areas with substantial tree coverage to escape the hot Texas summer weather, said Alamo Management Committee Tri-Chair Gene Powell, who also is a member of the Alamo Endowment Board. They’ll add at least 100 new trees in the area, he said, and move a large amount of the existing trees on the complex.
The point of the open area, he said, is to transport the public back to what the courtyard was once like.
“We know that at the time of the battle and before that the courtyard was a hot place and it was also a very, very busy place,” Powell said, since it was used for trading goods and gathering, among other activities. The team imagines its modern-day uses to include programming and historical/cultural demonstrations for children and adults.
“It will be a beehive of activity,” Powell said.
Trees will line what is currently South Alamo Street, which will be closed to vehicular traffic, according to the developing master plan. The plans also show an acequia – the Alamo’s original water source – connecting to the San Antonio River and some of the original walls around the mission – found during a series of archaeological digs performed last year – beneath glass panels.
Several Council members suggested adding a pedestrian connection from the river to the Alamo. The majority noted the importance of telling the authentic story of the Alamo, and gathering public input over the next few months to help ensure that that happens.
Councilwomen Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rebecca Viagran (D3) had reservations about the overall look and feel of the plans, calling it “sterile.”
“But I am very confident that we will make sure that what moves forward is something that will be awe-inspiring and capture our history, our continued history here of this … sacred and profound area,” Viagran said.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said he thinks the team “hit the mark” in terms of design. He is not overwhelmed nor underwhelmed, just simply “whelmed,” he said.
“But that’s the goal of what you’re trying to accomplish there – to be whelmed is to get a sense of what happened there,” Saldaña said. “I’m glad that what I saw was something that was right around the sweet spot.”
Gonzales cited reservations about the proposed usage of the glass wall around the Alamo, meant to mark the original boundaries of the mission. Skarmeas said the wall – the first such structure to surround a World Heritage site in the United States – is an opportunity to invite the public in, provide visual connectivity for visitors, and to provide an exhibition space within it.
Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) agreed. He also likened the transparent panels that would be placed on the ground over the original walls of the Alamo to the glass “skywalk” over the Grand Canyon. When you walk over that glass flooring there, he said, “you can start to understand why walking in the [Alamo] Plaza over this glass to look down at history is going to be something that tourists will be talking about all over the world.”
The master plan team has secured about $225 million for the estimated $450 million project, which includes funds from the City and the State. The City put in another $21 million, which is included on the proposed 2017 Municipal Bond. Powell said he’s confident they will secure the remaining capital from philanthropy, but fundraising efforts cannot begin until City Council approves final plans in May.
With the funds, they will relocate the businesses across from the Alamo – such as Ripley’s, the Guinness World Records Museum, Tomb Raider 3D, and other tourist shops – into an “entertainment district” nearby. Master planners anticipate the finished project, including the forthcoming entertainment district, doubling the economic impact the Alamo has annually on the city today.
According to economist Jon Hockenyos, who prepared the report for the Council briefing, the Alamo yields $375.1 million in total economic activity.
The reimagined plaza would bring $56.7 million in additional earnings, create 2,061 new permanent jobs, add 13.2% return on investment for the City, and add 8.7% return on investment to the State.
“Economic activity is the equivalent of sales or top-line revenue, while earnings refer to the combination of payroll and profits,” Hockenyos stated in an email to the Rivard Report. “Think of this as the equivalent of a balance sheet: revenue is at the top, while payroll is further down and profits/net income are literally the bottom line. As a result, economic activity and earnings are not additive – they are just different measures of the impact.”
According to estimates, the City and the State would see a return on investment in 5-11 years.
Click here to view various presentations on the evolving master plan given to the public and City officials. The design team will reveal the renderings to the public for comment at a meeting on Tuesday, April 18 at 6 p.m at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
The plans will be involved in a Planning Commission work session the same day, and a Zoning Commission work session on April 24.