According to the Alamo Trust, the Alamo welcomes over 1.6 million visitors per year. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This article has been updated.

The City will move to take back control of Alamo Plaza as it renegotiates a stalled Alamo redevelopment with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), City officials said Monday.

On Monday, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said the City and GLO are both interested in turning construction on Alamo Plaza, Crockett Street, and Bonham Street over to the City instead of the GLO, which was originally tapped to manage the entire proposed $450 million Alamo redevelopment.

Making those changes means revising a 2018 lease agreement between the City and the GLO, Houston said at a meeting of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee. The City, GLO, and Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward, “have all agreed” that each entity will become “the point of contact and the primary lead for that component of the plan they are funding,” Houston said.

In a follow-up email Tuesday, Houston stressed that “the City will fund Alamo Plaza and be the primary lead for the project’s construction, however, the State maintains its lease on the Plaza.”

San Antonio has set aside $38 million in 2017 bond funds for the project, with $13 million of that either “spent or committed,” Houston said. The GLO has $46.4 million remaining of the $136 million in allocations from the Texas Legislature to preserve the complex, according to a state auditor’s report.

The meeting marked the first glimpse of how the Alamo redevelopment might proceed in the wake of a September vote by the Texas Historical Commission that blocked the relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph. The 1930s-era monument was supposed to be moved under the City-GLO lease, a document that also granted control of portions of Alamo Plaza to the GLO in 2018, with the rest of the plaza scheduled to be conveyed this July.

But that was all tied to making space for an Alamo museum, Houston said. Private philanthropists were supposed to raise up to $200 million to fund that museum, but many bowed out after the Texas Historical Commission voted to block moving the Cenotaph. Alamo Trust is still responsible for fundraising for the museum and for improvements needed to connect the museum to the plaza.

The nonprofit is “still working on what that budget would look like,” Houston said.

“The denial to relocate the Cenotaph has jeopardized the ability to implement the Alamo Plan,” Houston told committee members. “Specifically, it jeopardized the museum. Until there is certainty that the museum will be constructed, there is no reason to close the streets.”

Houston said the GLO’s role would be confined to the Alamo grounds itself, continuing restorations underway at the Church and Long Barrack and creating a collections building to house artifacts donated by British singer-songwriter and Alamo enthusiast Phil Collins.

The setback over the Cenotaph is proving an opportunity for San Antonio officials to lock in two key local priorities: keeping Alamo Plaza open and preserving the historic buildings on the plaza’s western edge. Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for both at Monday’s meeting, the first since September and the first with two new tri-chairs, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Aaronetta Pierce, a civil rights leader and arts advocate.

“This has been long, it has been frustrating, it has been infuriating, but it has been productive,” Viagran told committee members. “From communication to progress to coordination, I want you to know I am committed to recalibrate this.” 

Houston also revealed new members of the Alamo Management Committee, which saw constant turnover last year. The committee is now made up of Viagran and City Attorney Andy Segovia, who represent the City; former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and Hope Andrade, who represent Alamo Trust; and Hector Valle and Jeff Gordon, who represent the GLO.

Monday’s meeting felt like a new chapter in a roughly seven-year saga, with many members expressing cautious optimism about a project that has seen repeated delays and long periods of silence from officials involved. Sharon Skrobarcek, a speech-language pathologist and former president of the local chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, said, “it would be important to know upfront what permits are needed.”

“Personally, my frustration was I thought it was a done deal, and we were just waiting to get it done and opened,” Skrobarcek said of the plan City Council approved in October 2018.

Davis Phillips, CEO of the company that owns Alamo Plaza tourist attractions Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Tomb Rider 3D, and the Guinness World Records Museum, said those in charge need to “clearly define what it means to ‘tell the whole story.’” Officials often use the phrase as an oblique reference to 300 years of racially charged history still being debated today.

“It sounds great. It’s a wonderful soundbite, but we need to say what that means,” Phillips said.

For some, the committee is the ideal place to deal with these questions of Texas identity. Its 30 members include historians, scholars, historic preservationists, descendants’ groups of indigenous peoples and Texas revolutionaries, and members of the local tourism and hospitality industry.

A March 8, 2021, list of Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee members.
A March 8 list of Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee members. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“The composition of this committee allows for all of the issues that we are concerned with to be discussed among ourselves,” Pierce said. “I believe that the expertise that we need is within us. So all of those ideas that need to be threshed out can be.”

The committee is gearing up for an intense series of meetings: three one-hour “listening circles” scheduled for March 16-18; a workshop from 4:30-7 p.m. on March 24; and two public meetings from 5:30-8 p.m. on March 29 and 5:30-7 p.m. on March 31.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Will Hurd had left the Alamo Management Committee. That information was based on a slide presented at the meeting that inaccurately showed Welcome Wilson Jr. being on the committee instead of Hurd. The story also has been updated to accurately reflect Sharon Skrobarcek’s former role with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

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Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.