Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A team of experts specializing in attractions, museums, and outdoor space expects to present a redevelopment package for Alamo Plaza to City officials as early as next month, but it may be June or July before City Council votes on the plan.
It’s been almost one year since the previous City Council unanimously approved the controversial Alamo Plaza Master Plan aimed at “reimagining” the historic Spanish-colonial mission, now surrounded by vehicular traffic and unrelated tourist attractions, into a place with a sense of “reverence and respect.”
City Council received an update on the redevelopment process Wednesday, as many of the new Council members did not take office until June 2017, after the master plan was formulated and approved.
The more contentious elements of that estimated $450 million plan – moving the Cenotaph and limiting streets to pedestrian traffic – only received “conceptual approval,” but still enjoy general support from most City Council members. Two councilmen, however, emphasized that “conceptual” doesn’t mean guaranteed, noting that some constituents have reached out to them in hopes of keeping the Cenotaph, a large 1930s sculpture commemorating the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, in place and streets open to vehicles.
The glass walls that were presented as part of the plan’s preliminary renderings were widely criticized in public and Council meetings, and will not likely see the light of day again.
Those walls served more as a placeholder for the element of the master plan that calls for representation of the plaza’s original boundaries, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said during the meeting, which were more expansive then than they are today.
“The master plan and the renderings were two separate things,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report. “[The renderings] gave a lot of specificity to certain design elements” that aren’t specific yet. The new team of experts is now tasked with getting more specific.
St. Louis-based attraction design firm PGAV Destinations, London-based museum and heritage consultants Cultural Innovations, and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand were selected to lead the interpretive plan for the “Shrine of Texas” and surrounding areas, including the historic buildings across South Alamo Street that will become a more than 100,000-square-foot museum.
The team will work with the 23-member Citizen Advisory Committee, which Treviño co-chairs alongside Marise McDermott, Witte Museum president and CEO, and Sue Ann Pemberton, UTSA assistant professor of architecture and historic preservation.
The Texas General Land Office, which oversees the Alamo, received applications from seven firms from the United States and United Kingdom, and interviewed four in September 2017. The three final firms were selected about two months ago, Treviño said.
The master plan was developed by Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership, which did not apply to carry out the interpretive plan. Alamo Plaza’s overhaul into a “world-class” site, which already enjoys a World Heritage designation, is the result of a joint agreement among the City of San Antonio, the General Land Office, and the privately-funded Alamo Endowment.
This iteration is more than three years in the making – the result of at least a dozen public meetings – and only the latest of several attempts to improve the plaza over the past decade, Sculley said.
“This is the first time we’ve gotten this far” in terms of funding and support, she added.
The Texas Legislature has appropriated more than $100 million to the plan, including $31 million that was spent on purchasing the historic buildings. The City has allocated $38 million for area improvements, including $21 million from the 2017 Municipal Bond program. The Alamo Endowment has committed to raising the remaining funds privately.
The Citizen Advisory Committee meetings are not open to the public, and it is unclear if public meetings will be held in the same manner they were during the master plan development stage. Hundreds of citizens attended those meetings that often ran late into the night.
The Management Committee, which Treviño is also a member of alongside representatives from the Endowment and General Land Office, will have to determine the timing and format of public engagement, he told the Rivard Report.
Regardless, Treviño said, he doesn’t want to rush the process. “We have a goal, but not a deadline.”
The project will be taken on a “road show” to several Texas cities to collect feedback from people across the state.
“There are many constituencies to please and to address,” Sculley said. “I doubt that we’ll have unanimity on the concepts because it’s not only San Antonio [residents] but the entire state of Texas and across the country for that matter.”
Councilmen Greg Brockhouse (D6) and Clayton Perry (D10) cautioned the City from moving forward with plans to close streets and move the Cenotaph without collecting more community input and exploring other possibilities.
“Nothing is set in stone right now,” Perry said.
“This isn’t an approved concept, this is just an idea,” Brockhouse added later.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) emphasized the importance of continuing education on the site’s more than 300 years and “layers” of history.
The more people know about the Alamo’s history, the more likely they will be to compromise when it comes to hard-and-fast beliefs about how the site should be redeveloped, she said.
The Planning Commission will consider the road closures, and the Historic and Design Review Commission will consider the Centotaph relocation and the larger interpretive plan before it heads to City Council.