Alamo officials were set to meet Wednesday with the owner of a downtown bar that stands in the way of a plan to redevelop the Crockett and Woolworth buildings into the Alamo Visitor Center and Museum. 

In January, at the urging of the Alamo Trust, City Council approved an ordinance that allows for the seizure of bar owner Vince Cantu’s property through eminent domain. Wednesday’s mediation session was ordered by the council when it passed the ordinance on Jan. 26, Cantu said. 

Officials with the Alamo Trust and the Texas General Land Office said Cantu’s asking price of $17 million for Moses Rose’s Hideout, the East Houston Street bar near Alamo Plaza he’s owned since 2010, is unreasonable. 

Cantu told the San Antonio Report on Tuesday that he plans to bring the same $17 million asking price to the table, a figure that the Alamo Trust never responded to, he said.

A timeline of negotiations that starts in 2020 — provided by Alamo Trust spokesman Jonathan Huhn on Tuesday — shows the General Land Office countered that offer with $2 million, the appraisal value of the land at the time. 

Cantu rejected that offer and two others, for $2.5 million and $3.5 million, in 2022, according to Alamo officials. 

The Alamo Trust also provided a scale drawing that shows how plans for the museum would be impacted if the bar property is not acquired. A 4-D theater will not fit on the site, according to the drawing, and a Civil Rights exhibit would be “greatly affected.”

Notes on the drawing indicate the changes to the museum exhibits will result in millions of lost revenue and, “the Visitor’s Center will no longer be a financially sustainable operation and will require city/state support on an annual basis.”

Huhn said the trust is optimistic that both parties can agree to a “reasonable purchase price, making the use of eminent domain by the City of San Antonio unnecessary.”

Dan Eldredge, the eminent domain attorney representing Cantu, said no “substantive negotiations” have happened since the council decision in January.

Eldredge said he did not know who would be at the Wednesday meeting but expected they would have the authority to negotiate a deal and would conduct the talks “without eminent domain at a backstop.”

“This whole thing has happened very unexpectedly,” he said. “My hope is that if things were to not be successful tomorrow, the city would second-guess their decision to condemn. That is my hope.”

Meanwhile, local leaders of a national civil rights organization stood at the steps of City Hall on Tuesday asking Mayor Ron Nirenberg to pause eminent domain proceedings against Cantu. 

“All the demonization of Mr. Cantu is wrong,” said Rodolfo Rosales, LULAC Texas state director. “He’s not holding out to stop progress. He’s holding out for his livelihood. He’s holding out for his family. He’s holding out for dignity. He has a right to ask for what he wants.”

Rodolfo Rosales, the Texas state director for LULAC, speaks in defense of Vince Cantu and his property that is being threatened with eminent domain to make way for a museum development at Alamo Plaza.
Rodolfo Rosales, the Texas state director for LULAC, talks about bar owner Vince Cantu and his property condemnation case at City Hall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

City Attorney Andy Segovia said the Alamo Trust and the city have been in confidential settlement discussions about the matter, and LULAC is not aware of those talks.

“Their attempt to intervene in the process without knowing the full set of facts is not helpful,” he said. 

LULAC leaders and Cantu also pointed to the 2022 agreement that the Alamo Trust made with Phillips Entertainment, a company that operated several amusement businesses in Alamo Plaza. The trust acquired property leased by Phillips for the Alamo Plaza redevelopment project. 

That agreement resulted in nearly a year of free rent during those businesses’ final months in operation last year and a $9.4 million payout to Phillips and its attractions, according to documents obtained through a public records request submitted by the San Antonio Report.

“It’s really a kind of a story of two different families with two different last names being treated completely different,” Cantu said of his dealings with the Alamo Trust. “And then it’s really sad to say that because this is San Antonio and you wouldn’t think that kind of stuff still happens, but I have no other explanation for it.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.