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Officials aren’t saying much about the future of the Alamo’s redevelopment, but two things seem certain: Some version of the Alamo plan will go forward, and the Cenotaph won’t move from its current place on Alamo Plaza.
That’s what has emerged a week after a vote by the Texas Historical Commission denying permission to relocate the Cenotaph, a 1930s monument to the Texas revolutionaries killed during a battle with the Mexican Army. Ahead of that vote, officials with the City, the Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Trust had repeatedly said that a no vote by the commission would effectively kill the proposed $450 million redevelopment project.
This week, officials including Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) walked back those remarks and reiterated their commitment to the redevelopment plan, which had called for the Cenotaph to be moved 500 feet south of its current spot and restored. However, Treviño offered no specifics during a meeting Wednesday of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee.
“I am not ready to discuss any details of that,” Treviño told committee members, responding to a question about what might come next. “The point is, this is about the plan and we’re currently having conversations about how we’re going to move forward, and that’s really it.”
Officials who have spent years formulating and shepherding the redevelopment plan seem reluctant to discuss publicly what the next steps might entail. Treviño didn’t return a phone message Wednesday seeking additional comment. Press officials for the GLO, which owns the Alamo site, didn’t respond to emailed questions.
Douglass McDonald, CEO of the Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward, declined to answer questions last week about the future of the project. In an emailed statement, McDonald said the overall plan “is inclusive of many elements, including the church and Long Barrack restorations.”
“These were always the priorities and will move forward,” said McDonald, whose two years at the head of Alamo Trust ended Wednesday after his resignation earlier this year. “The other parts of the plan will be determined by Alamo Trust, the City, and General Land Office in the near future.”
Treviño, who chairs the Alamo Management Committee, stressed at the meeting Wednesday that the committee is not abandoning the redevelopment but noted that lawyers with the City and the Texas General Land Office are conferring about legal options. The committee, which also includes City Manager Erik Walsh, Fort Worth philanthropist Ramona Bass, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), GLO Deputy Director Hector Valle, and attorney Jeff Gordon, who serves as general counsel, will meet Friday to discuss the future of the project, Treviño said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Treviño called the Texas Historical Commission’s vote “a philosophical disagreement that clashes with the vision and guiding principles, which is to tell a complete story” of the 300 years of history that unfolded at the site, not only the iconic battle that took place over 13 days in 1836.
“There was this push by the lieutenant governor and [Texas Historical Commission Chair] John Nau to stay focused on 13 days and to tell, I think, a very narrow story of the site,” Treviño said.
He added that the commissioners felt they could “pick elements that can and cannot be included in this plan.”
“We communicated that that’s not how this works,” Treviño said.
The City and the GLO are parties to a lease signed in 2018 that spells out the roles each would play in redevelopment. Under the agreement, the City leases Alamo Plaza to the GLO until Dec. 31, 2068, with an option for the GLO to automatically renew the lease for two subsequent 25-year terms.
One of the provisions in the lease states that the “GLO and the City shall work together to coordinate the restoration and relocation of the Cenotaph consistent with the Alamo Plan so that the Cenotaph retains a place of prominence and honor within Alamo Plaza.” Treviño and Assistant City Manager Lori Houston cited the lease in the lead-up to the Texas Historical Commission vote.
“We are contractually obligated to implement the plan, which includes repairing and relocating the Cenotaph,” Houston said during the Sept. 22 commission meeting.
The lease does not explicitly address what happens if a regulatory agency such as the Texas Historical Commission does not approve a permit critical to implementing the redevelopment plan.
Ahead of the commission vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republican leaders had taken up calls from concerned Texans, conservative activists, and groups like the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association and This Is Texas Freedom Force to leave the Cenotaph in place.
The debate became about more than a monument, with officials arguing over whether the redeveloped Alamo will focus more on the battle or on the long history of Indigenous, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Anglo communities that developed at the former mission.
George Cisneros, one of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee members, said at the meeting Wednesday that the debate over the Cenotaph “is not about the 13 days, it’s about race and pigment.”
“They want to preserve their white establishment icon,” Cisneros said. “And everybody knows that that’s not the true story.”
Others are more focused on the future of the Woolworth and Crockett buildings on the west side of Alamo Plaza. The GLO owns both buildings, and officials have not said whether they will be demolished to make room for a museum and visitors center.
Members of the Conservation Society of San Antonio, the influential nonprofit that advocates for preserving historic structures, have been staunch advocates for saving the buildings, citing in particular the Woolworth’s role in San Antonio civil rights history during the 1960s.
However, following the vote on the Cenotaph, conservation society President Patti Zaiontz issued a statement saying the Texas Historical Commission followed “the standard that historic structures should only be relocated if such action is necessary for their survival.”
“The Conservation Society of San Antonio understands this conservation principle and has always believed that the focus should be on the conservation and preservation of the historic structures on Alamo Plaza, especially the Alamo chapel and Long Barrack, which have been a symbol of freedom and bravery for almost two centuries.”
Despite the major setback over the Cenotaph, officials pushing for the redevelopment cleared one potential hurdle on Sept. 23, when Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia dismissed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the GLO, City of San Antonio, and Alamo Trust.
Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, a San Antonio group that says its members’ ancestors were Indigenous people who lived at the Alamo and whose remains have been unearthed during digs at the site, had sued the government entities seeking more say in the treatment of those remains, among other issues.
In his order dismissing the case, Garcia wrote that all groups that claim to be descendants of people buried at the Alamo, including Canary Islanders, Spanish settlers, and Texas revolutionaries, received the same treatment from officials, with no discrimination against Tap Pilam in particular.
However, a similar case by the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association is still pending. After a state district court judge in Travis County dismissed that case in April, the organization appealed. The issue is now before the Texas 8th District Court of Appeals in El Paso.