If the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee were a Netflix series, Monday’s meeting would be an early episode in Season 8, which as anyone addicted to streaming content knows, is long past the time when most dramas remain entertaining or hold our attention.
While many of us can’t stop watching, the truth is nothing promised in previous episodes actually ever happens. The committee hasn’t met since 2019, according to the City’s website. That’s a bit out of date. It met once last year, but you did not miss much. There is a bare-bones agenda of sorts for Monday’s virtual meeting, which you can watch here, 5:30-7 p.m.
San Antonio’s long-running soap opera has delivered its share of surprise twists and turns, none more dramatic than the evolution of the City’s latest plaza redevelopment plan into an ill-fated City-state partnership with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and what became the $450 million Alamo Redevelopment Plan.
After months of contentious debate and public hearings, the citizens committee approved the plan in 2018, way back in Season 5.
Is that partnership still one the people of San Antonio should trust? That depends on which character in the drama you believe. Take your pick: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush, Texas Historical Commission Chairman John Nau, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, or Roberto Treviño, the now-deposed chair of the Alamo Management Committee.
The real action seems to happen mostly behind closed doors, despite the many promises over the years of a transparent, citizen-led initiative.
Season 8 opened on March 1 when Nirenberg announced he had “asked” Treviño to surrender his office as the City’s lead representative. Treviño refused the invitation, but was promptly replaced by outgoing City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). She and longtime civil rights leader and arts advocate Aaronetta Pierce also were named to serve as two of the latest tri-chairs of the citizens advisory committee. They join Sue Ann Pemberton, a respected architect and historical preservationist who has served in that role since the very beginning.
Others have come and gone: State Rep. Diego Bernal when he was still a city councilman; Witte Museum CEO Marise McDermott, and most recently, marketing guru and artist Lionel Sosa.
Advisory committee members want to believe their work matters, yet the plotline always falls back on the same outcome: Disappointed citizens learn they are hostage to larger, often invisible forces, helpless to affect the outcome.
It seemed fitting that reenactors and others gathered Saturday morning, in coonskins and bearing flintlocks, to commemorate the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, an annual episode that never fails to entertain. After all, the fighting has never really stopped. For several decades now, San Antonians have watched one losing battle after another as Hollywood myth, racial exclusion, noisy carnival attractions, and negligent urban planning remain in place once the smoke clears.
A more thoughtful and honest telling of history and respect for the site in the heart of the city seems simply beyond San Antonio’s grasp, even when outside experts and funders are brought in to help break the perpetual local standoff.
Looking back to that first meeting of the then-named advisory committee on May 9, 2014, with Julián Castro in his waning days as mayor, the melodrama remains faithful to tried and true television plot lines. Characters we’ve been manipulated into liking fail us. Others, who we’ve learned to distrust and despise, seize the upper hand. A procession of other players, like characters in the hands of screenwriters, come and go.
The unraveling began this time in 2019, Season 6, as state and city leaders on the Alamo Management Committee planned the first phase of the redevelopment plan, the relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph to a new plaza location to open up the 1836 battlefield and give visitors a more compelling historical experience.
Their efforts were thwarted for nearly one year, but finally, on Sept. 22, 2020, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) met and voted to block the relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph. Alamo Trust CEO Douglass McDonald’s resignation became official that same day. Six months later, the job remains vacant.
Treviño clung to his belief that the City had the legal right to move the Cenotaph, but Nirenberg, City Manager Erik Walsh, and Deputy City Manager Lori Houston declined to challenge the state’s authority.
By Season 7, it seemed evident to most of us the $450 million redevelopment plan was dead. Patrick and Nau had succeeded in stopping anything that would disturb the status quo at the Alamo.
The Patrick-Nau alliance left Bush and the GLO marginalized and prompted the resignations of the plan’s most prominent philanthropists and the demise of the formerly named Alamo Endowment, whose members had pledged to raise as much as $200 million of the project’s cost.
What to expect next? With Treviño out, Patrick and Bush have apparently agreed on a ceasefire. The City has agreed to close Alamo Street on the plaza to vehicle traffic and to give the state control over the Alamo Plaza for 50 years, subject to a second 50-year renewal. The City will spend $38 million of 2017 bond funds to effect the closure and redevelop the spaces around the Cenotaph.
City Council will vote on a revised lease in the coming weeks.
What does the City get from the state in return? Nothing at all, as far as I can tell, other than Patrick’s promises to win funding to finance the project, including the $200 million that private funders will no longer provide.
If this were a Netflix series, the drama would be heightened by City Council drawing a line in the sand, refusing to rubber-stamp a new lease until the state’s funding is in hand and the check is cashed. My prediction as a longtime viewer: That’s not how Season 8 ends.