San Antonio City Council members unanimously approved allocating $7.4 million for the final phase of the Alameda Theater restoration project at a meeting Thursday.

Built in 1949, the Alameda Theater served as a prominent Mexican American entertainment venue before closing in the 1980s. Efforts to renovate the city-owned property on West Houston Street have been underway since early 2020, but encountered delays because of a lack of funding and the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone uses the word iconic but this is literally an icon,” Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said. “Investing in this is as important as investing in the Majestic Theater, investing in restoring assets at Hemisfair, making sure our Tower of the Americas is beautiful. … This is what great cities do. Great cities take care of their icons. Cities without icons ain’t that great.” 

The Alameda Theater Conservancy, which has in the past led fundraising for projects related to the theater, will oversee operations of the theater once it is fully restored. 

A City Council committee pushed the proposal to the full council in September, but not without asking city staff to look into getting a commitment from the Alameda Theater Conservancy to pay theater workers a living wage, as well as ensuring that tickets for shows at the theater remain affordable to everyone. Veronica Garcia, director of the Neighborhood and Housing Services Department, assured council members Thursday that both of those issues had been addressed.

“There is a commitment from the conservancy to ensure that in addition to market-rate prices, there will also be an aspect that includes free and low-cost programming,” Garcia said.

Wages for staff and subcontractors of the Alameda Theater will be set against the city-established living wage, which means the minimum theater wage will change with the city’s, Garcia said.

Several council members thanked Garcia for making sure that both pay and community accessibility were prioritized by the Alameda Theater group.

“I’m excited to support this project and to see it coming to fruition in 2023,” Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said.

The Houston Street TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) will provide $7 million for the final phase of construction for the Alameda Theater restoration project. The city expects Bexar County to dedicate another $7 million to the project later this month, Garcia said. City Council approved another $400,000 in TIRZ funding to address environmental issues related to the project.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) expressed reservations about the project’s price tag, pointing out that the city has already spent millions since it purchased the theater in 1994. According to Garcia, the total investment prior to Thursday’s approved $7 million addition was $20.8 million. That figure includes the purchase cost, repairs to ensure the building’s stability, and addressing environmental issues. 

“I understand the significance of this to the Hispanic community, but again we’re dealing with taxpayer money here and I want to make sure I take a look at this and say, ‘Yes, this is indeed required,’” Perry said.

He voted in favor of the funding, acknowledging that support from the Houston Street TIRZ led him to do so.

“If TIRZ is saying they’re willing to put money into this facility, I’ll support that,” he said. “But I’d really like to hear that tone of, ‘This is kind of it.’ We’re not going to be tasked or continuing to provide day-to-day operations or maintenance funding.”

The theater sits on San Pedro Creek and also is attached to the new Texas Public Radio headquarters. The radio station also contributed $5 million to build its offices.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg reminded his colleagues that “what happens in downtown San Antonio reverberates across the city.”

“There is a significant project underway that we are anxious to see to its completion that is historic, that is environmental, that is economic, and that’s the San Pedro Creek project,” he said. “And this will be the jewel, the crown of the San Pedro Creek.”

City staff anticipates construction of the Alameda Theater will be completed in 2023.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.