Alamo CEO Douglas McDonald attempts to talk down a crowd of citizens opposed to the revised Alamo master plan.
Alamo CEO Douglas McDonald speaks to a crowd of citizens opposed to the revised Alamo master plan. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In the hyper-partisan environment we endure these days, the concept of compromise has gotten a bad rap. But a willingness to compromise is critical if we are to reach a community decision on how to re-envision Alamo Plaza.

As a retired San Antonio district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, I hosted or attended several hundred public meetings and public hearings throughout my 45-year career. Two types of people generally attended those meetings: people who are anti-government, anti-progress, or just “anti;” and those who typically have one singular issue about which they are very passionate.

The vast majority of citizens – at least the ones who pay attention at all – just assume that the logical, rational project solutions developed by professionals will be implemented. Trying to engage the vocal minority is often doomed to failure, as its members are not able or willing to have a give-and-take discussion to try to find acceptable compromise.

Consequently, the information gathered at these meetings is skewed toward these extreme or specific views, and the professionals are left to sort through the input for any useful nuggets that could be incorporated to improve the final product. Don’t get me wrong – there are occasions where nuggets of ideas at meetings do result in a better final product.

As one of those professionals my initial goal was always to try to develop plans that could garner consensus. We engineers sure do like to find solutions. Generally, however, as in the case of the Alamo Plaza solution, the transportation project issues were too complex to reach consensus. So, my fallback position was always to do my best to at least find an acceptable compromise.

With the level of acrimony we’ve seen so far at the Alamo Plaza meetings, I fear that we may miss a multi-generational opportunity to upgrade the plaza to complement the World Heritage Site designation that has been bestowed upon our San Antonio missions. That would be a tragic missed opportunity, both for San Antonio and for Texas. We must find a way to step back from rigid and entrenched positions and be willing to listen to and entertain other viewpoints. Remember your mother’s admonition in childhood to “play well with others.” No one kid should ever expect to always get their way on the playground – or in real life.

So, here are my compromise suggestions:

First, I am glad the designers have recognized the critical need for shade in the plaza. While we won’t realistically see the dense forest depicted in the recent presentation, some locally compatible trees should be included in the plaza plan – a great and practical compromise.

Second, I like the idea of relocating the cenotaph to near the existing gazebo – a compromise between leaving it as it is, usurping visual space in the heart of the plaza and competing with the Alamo facade for attention, and unacceptably moving it several blocks away. The placement of the cenotaph 500 feet to the south would help create a grand south entry ambiance coming in from Commerce Street.

The Alamo Cenotaph
The Alamo Cenotaph Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Third, I worry about downtown connectivity, but feel the closure of Alamo Street – with improvements to Losoya – is a viable compromise critical to providing an appropriate experience in the plaza. Vehicular noise constantly rumbling past the plaza would detract from the reflective and reverential plaza environment planners desire and interfere with pedestrians strolling around the site soaking up the historic context. My further compromise solution to address some people’s desire to continue to have the historic Battle of Flowers Parade pass by the front of the church would be to install permeable pavers along the western part of the plaza, with removable bollards at Houston and Commerce streets which could be removed only for the parade and limited special occasions.

My final compromise solution would be to salvage the facades of the existing historic buildings along the west side of the plaza, but gut the interiors to allow construction of a modern, high-quality educational museum that will tell the whole story of the San Antonio area – not only the famous battle, but also the larger and much longer historical context of the region, from centuries before the advent of European immigrants to recent times, including recognizing the Woolworth lunch counter integration.

Obviously, not everyone will agree with all of my suggestions, but perhaps these ideas can form the basis of an open dialogue – remember, no one can expect to get everything they want from a reimagined Alamo Plaza. But at the end of the day, we should be able to find a solution we can all at least accept and be proud of for decades and even centuries to come.

My bottom line: Let’s make compromise great again.

John Kelly

John Kelly is a retired civil engineer, with a career specializing in transportation that spans 45 years in Texas, including 10 years as TxDOT’s San Antonio District Engineer (1993-2003).