Inertia Stokes Fears That ‘Entertainment District’ for Alamo Plaza Businesses Is Dead

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Visitors led through a walking tour walk by Ripley's Haunted Adventure. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Visitors on a walking tour approach Ripley's Haunted Adventure, across from the Alamo, in 2016.

The search for a so-called “entertainment district” that would house Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and other businesses relocated from Alamo Plaza has yet to yield any satisfactory options, Alamo officials and area business leaders said.

It’s been at least five months since a meeting on the topic between the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and business owners, they said, and the Alamo Master Plan, which called for the entertainment district, was approved by City Council more than a year ago.

The inactivity has caused some to wonder: Is the entertainment district dead? Business owners have leases in the State-owned buildings that surpass the estimated 2024 opening date, and plaza construction is slated to begin in 2021.

Relocating the entertainment businesses in the Woolworth, Palace, and Crockett buildings is a key component of the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Alamo Plaza. Those buildings – or at least their footprints – are across from the historic Alamo mission and are slated to become a “world-class” museum.

The museum is part of the broader plan to close streets to vehicular traffic in the plaza, establish entry plaza points, move the Cenotaph, and preserve the historic Alamo mission and Long Barrack. The ultimate goal is to bring a sense of “reverence and honor” to the historic site, the plan states, and entertainment attractions unrelated to that history run counter to that.

Phillips Entertainment Inc. owns and operates Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Records Museum, and Tomb Rider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade.

“There is nothing occurring right now on the entertainment district specifically, but [the area business owners] are having some discussions about the overall redevelopment and its impact on all of the surrounding businesses,” said Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment. “I am still of the opinion that this entire process is moving too slow and there is no sense of urgency from the State to ensure the small businesses are taken care of.”

Asked if the entertainment district is “dead,” Phillips said: “That’s my concern. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

David Phillips, Phillips Entertainment, Inc. CEO.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Davis Phillips is CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc., which owns Guinness World Records Museum and two other attractions in Alamo Plaza.

There’s little real estate left that could come anywhere close to matching the value of their location now: right between the Alamo and the River Walk, the top two tourist destinations in San Antonio.

“There’s no empty spot right now,” Phillips said.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, who oversees the City’s role in the redevelopment project, confirmed that the City is focusing on developing the design of the museum and finalizing plans for the plaza.

“I would caution before saying that it’s actually dead,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). “I’m still hopeful that we can establish something like that but let’s not put the cart before the horse. … There was never any kind of promise that there would be an entertainment district before we finish the Alamo project.”

Once the design for the plaza, museum, and surrounding streets are final, those plans can be used to better inform what should be done to accommodate the businesses, he said.

But from Phillips’ perspective, you can’t have one without the other.

“It’s a two-part plan,” Phillips said. “The entertainment district clears the deck for the Alamo development to happen.”

Phillips has lease agreements in two of the buildings through 2028 – but Alamo Plaza designers and funders aim for a 2024 “soft opening” date, 300 years after the Alamo was established. When the State purchased the buildings in 2015, the lease agreements were kept intact.

The Alamo Master Plan calls for the removal of all entertainment attractions from the grounds of the 1836 Alamo battlefield – not just those buildings. Ripley’s Entertainment Inc. operates its Believe It or Not! and Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks attractions in the buildings directly south of the State’s buildings.

The Incredible Hulk at Luis Tassaud's Waxworks. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Incredible Hulk figure at Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks

“The entertainment district depends on Phillips Entertainment and the Ripley corporation’s willingness to relocate to another site,” Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald told the Rivard Report. “In the past, Ripley’s corporation has not been interested in relocating. We look forward to working with them, should they change their position.

Officials with Ripley Entertainment Inc. did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“[A] 2024 [opening date] cannot happen without in some way taking care of Phillips Entertainment … and Ripley Entertainment,” Phillps said. “We do not want to be a roadblock … we want the Alamo project to succeed.”

Phillips said he hasn’t talked with the City or GLO yet about how much the State or City should compensate him to exit the buildings before his lease is up – or if that is needed.

“We haven’t gotten into all that,” he said. “[But] if and when the time comes for us to relocate, the cost for that 100 percent must be covered by the State or City.”

That cost hasn’t yet been calculated, he said, but he has told State and local leaders that it would cost about $20 million “to rebuild my three business in today’s dollars.”

Between the City’s budget allocations and dedicated funding from the Texas Legislature, about $42 million has been committed to the Alamo Plaza project. The Alamo Endowment has pledged to privately raise the rest to fund the estimated $450-$500 million plan. Those three entities have agreed to work together on planning and funding the massive redevelopment.

“Our priority continues to be the implementation of the Alamo Plan, which will honor all those who lived, fought, and died here with a world-class Alamo Museum and Visitor Center,” McDonald said.

The City isn’t responsible for building or funding the entertainment district, Treviño said, but it should be a strong facilitator. And he’s not concerned that a snag in the district might derail the overall plan, he said.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’ll have a ribbon-cutting in 2024,” said Treviño, a co-chair of the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee and the Alamo Management Committee, which is made up of City, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and Alamo Endowment representatives. “I see the site [evolving] after that.”

It’s possible that, due to the complexity and scale of the project, that certain elements are implemented gradually, he said. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

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