Most San Antonio City Council members reacted favorably to a new version of a redevelopment plan for the Alamo, though many had questions about the details at a meeting Wednesday.
“I don’t love every element of it, but I understand this is a compromise,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said at the meeting with staff from the City, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and Alamo Trust, the three entities involved in the 7-year-long redevelopment effort.
Plans to redevelop the historic site stalled last year after a vote from the Texas Historical Commission to block moving the Alamo Cenotaph, a 1930s-era monument to Texas Revolutionaries killed in the 1836 battle.
To move the project ahead, City Council would have to approve amendments to a 2018 lease governing Alamo Plaza. A vote on these amendments is scheduled for April 15.
If Council approves, officials intend to close Alamo Street from Houston Street to Crockett Street by June 1. A design phase would follow starting in May, with plans to go before the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission in December. Construction would then begin in early 2022.
A recent Bexar Facts/KSAT/San Antonio Report poll of local voters found that most support the changes proposed for the Alamo redevelopment, including keeping the plaza open and not moving the Cenotaph.
In the survey of 618 Bexar County voters, conducted by phone and online from March 23 to March 29, 87% said Alamo Plaza should remain “free and accessible to the public at all times.” Asked whether the Cenotaph “needs to stay exactly where it is,” 70% agreed.
Asked whether Alamo Plaza needs “fences or a gate to separate the plaza from the public spaces around it,” only 24% agreed and 65% disagreed.
Under the new arrangement, the City would still lease the central part of Alamo Plaza in front of the Alamo Church to the GLO. The 50-year term with two 25-year extensions in the current lease would remain unchanged.
The City’s long-term lease of the surrounding space on the plaza will take effect only when the Texas Historical Commission approves a design for a museum that repurposes the Crockett and Woolworth buildings and when funding for the museum and visitors center is identified, Houston said.
The City’s total commitment of $38 million in bond funding for the project also remains unchanged. Of that, $15 million is for improvements on Crockett and Bonham streets that began last year, and $23 million is for design and construction on Alamo Plaza, Houston said.
Sources differ on how much the Texas Legislature has committed in funding for the project. A January state auditor’s report says that the GLO as of October 2020 had $46.4 million remaining of the $136 million in allocations from the Texas Legislature to preserve the complex from 2016 to 2021.
On Wednesday, Houston said the State’s contribution to the redevelopment is $106 million for acquiring the Woolworth, Crockett, and Palace buildings; restoring the Alamo Church and Long Barrack; and building a Collections Building on Alamo grounds. The auditor’s report mentions $15.4 million the GLO has so far spent on buildings and land acquisition for the Alamo project.
Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward, will raise an as-yet-unknown amount for the Alamo museum and “interpretive elements on the Alamo Plaza,” Houston said.
During the meeting, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said the funding proposal has “a lot more questions than answers.”
“I’m just concerned that there’s no penalty for nonperformance, and this sounds incredibly open-ended on such a quick turnaround,” Treviño said.
Treviño was formerly the City’s longest-serving elected official working on the Alamo Plan before Mayor Ron Nirenberg replaced him in March with Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). On Wednesday, Treviño told his colleagues that his “hope continues to be that this project is implemented.”
In the new design, Alamo Plaza will remain open for pedestrian access at all times, a measure that City Attorney Andy Segovia described as a “key compromise on the [part] of the GLO.”
However, the discussion also focused on what events will be allowed in a future Alamo Plaza and what would be restricted.
Houston listed nine events that would be granted access to the plaza, including the Battle of the Flowers Parade, the Fiesta Flambeau Parade, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation’s sunrise ceremony, the Pilgrimage to the Alamo, Texas Cavaliers’ investiture ceremony, and multiple military events.
“So spontaneous events like protests, or prayer vigils, or going out there as a group to sing Christmas carols and things like that – is that going to be now banned from that plaza area?” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) then asked.
Houston responded that “there is an area on the site that accommodates those types of events,” later describing it as a “First Amendment area.”
Perry followed up with another question: “Let’s say 25 people or 30 people – will they be able to get together and do anything on that plaza, or will they be pushed out into that First Amendment area?”
Segovia said “that would depend, obviously, on the situation – what groups of people, how many people there are, what they’re doing.”
“Obviously, like on any other City property, public property, we have to be cognizant of First Amendment rights,” Segovia continued, later adding that “we have a designated First Amendment area that we would prefer people use, but a lot will depend on the context of what we’re talking about.”
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) asked about whether people would still be allowed to carry firearms during gatherings on the plaza, referencing open-carry demonstrations held near the Cenotaph last year.
“Is the First Amendment area also a Second Amendment area, as well?” Sandoval said. “I don’t know the answer, but I was as fearful as many other people were when we had those events there.”
Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who said during the meeting that he carries a gun “almost every day,” described restricting gun rights on the plaza as “a bear that I don’t think any of us intend to poke today.”