“Save the trees” and “Don’t wall us out” are some of the most common criticisms of the conceptual design of the Alamo Master Plan that emerged last month.

So far, designers seem to have scrapped the idea to remove and relocate the trees that exist today in historic Alamo Plaza, and they have added several entry points north of the plaza instead of directing all inbound traffic to enter through a south gate. City Council will vote on a few preliminary elements of the plan on Thursday, May 11.

Still, most people said those glass walls have got to go.

This rendering shows Alamo Plaza (looking northeast from above) at dusk.
The proposed rendering shows Alamo Plaza (looking northeast from above) at dusk. Credit: Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

Those concerns were reiterated more than a dozen times Tuesday night by citizens and architects, historians, stakeholder organizations, representatives from Native American groups, and others during the third and likely final public meeting since the provocative renderings of the estimated $450 million plan were released.

“Our greatest reservation involves the [glass] enclosure and gating of Alamo Plaza, limiting access to a single entrance at the south gate,” said San Antonio Conservation Society President Janet Dietel. While the Society has been vocal on social media, this was one of the first times it delivered its criticisms so publicly. “We believe the plan should guarantee continued enjoyment and use of Alamo Plaza as a civic space with access from Houston Street while providing necessary security and protection of the Alamo.”

There were a few voices of support in the crowd of about 200 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Some were members of the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee that developed the Vision and Guiding Principles for the plan in 2014.

Ramon Vasquez, executive director of American Indians in Texas At the Spanish Colonial Missions (AITASCM), was one such member who echoed what designers had reminded the crowd of during previous meetings: this is not the finished product.

“We haven’t even talked about programming and interpretation yet,” Vasquez said before the public comment period began. “[AITASCM] will be the first adversaries when it starts to go .”

The Conservation Society strongly supports the creation of a museum in the adjacent Crockett Block buildings and the proposed street closures.

“While the Society traditionally opposes street closings, traffic adjacent to the Alamo Plaza has contributed to the deterioration [of the Alamo], justifying the reroute of vehicles,” Dietel said.

These public meetings have solidified the notion that the Alamo means different things to different people. The layers and dimensions of the plaza’s 10,000-year-old history was one that designers struggled with, but the principles developed call for the 1836 Battle of the Alamo to be the gateway into that historic context.

Jose Sierra Jr. rejects the notion that the battle produced “heroes” defending the Alamo and said the mission was more like a “den of thieves.”

A man started to shout back, demanding that Sierra stop talking.

“Go to hell!” the man said and left the room.

Sierra went on to explain that, technically, this land belonged to Mexicans before Americans redrew their borders. The Texas Revolution was about Mexicans defending it, he said, “[America] stole the land from our forefathers.”

The meeting, which started at about 6 p.m., continued late into the night as citizens spoke about three minutes at a time until 9:30 p.m.

Other elements of the plan – such as closing South Alamo and East Crockett streets, moving the Cenotaph, installing interpretations of acequias, and establishing operating hours – have received mixed reviews.

Italia Aguilera (right) holds up a sign at the public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan.
Italia Aguilera (right) holds up a sign at the public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The organization that promotes and protects the River Walk, the Paseo Del Rio Association, for instance, opposes the wall and street closures.

Members of the Alamo Management Committee, made up of City, State, and Alamo Endowment representatives, listened and took notes as citizens delivered passionate speeches.

Officials will present four plan elements to City Council for conceptual approval including the two street closures, the repairing and relocation of the Cenotaph to a place “within context,” view shed protection for the area behind the Alamo, and the conveyance of leasing management duties for the plaza to the General Land Office, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).

Alamo Master Planner George Skarmeas (left) takes notes while City Manager Sheryl Sculley listens to comments from the audience at the public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan.
George Skarmeas (left), who is leading the design team, takes notes while City Manager Sheryl Sculley listens to comments from the audience at the public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

One of the most important goals of the master plan is to to start taking better care of the Alamo, Treviño told the crowd. Street closures, better security, and, to some extent, the walls themselves are meant to do that.

He reminded the crowd again that the City is still in the “very early stages of this master plan process.”

Treviño is also a tri-chair of the Management Committee.

If approved by Council, these elements will then be reviewed by the Planning, Zoning, and Historic and Design Review commissions.

Council’s vote would come after the citizens’ vote in the May 6 general and bond elections, noted Annalisa Peace.

“I think it’s outrageous to have this vote on May 11,” said Peace, who is the executive director of the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance, but did not attend the meeting in that capacity. She said the new City Council should have a chance to vote once they are seated after likely runoff elections in June.

The 2017 Municipal Bond is also on the ballot and includes $21 million for streets and other elements related to implementing the Alamo Master Plan.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org