In another sign that the planned $450 million Alamo redevelopment is at risk, multiple business leaders and key donors have abandoned a fundraising effort for the project.
Five members of the board of directors of Alamo Trust, the nonprofit steward of the historic site, have resigned, according to an Oct. 23 email former Alamo Trust board member Gene Powell sent to other officials involved in the Alamo redevelopment. Powell did not immediately respond to an email Monday seeking comment.
Those who resigned include Powell and Ramona Bass, a Fort Worth philanthropist married to billionaire Lee Bass. Others who have left the nonprofit’s board include Nancy Perot, daughter of the late business magnate Ross Perot; Jeanne Phillips, who served as an ambassador under President George W. Bush; and San Antonio tech entrepreneur Lew Moorman.
The San Antonio Report obtained the Oct. 12 resignation letter from Bass that followed a Sept. 22 vote against moving the Alamo Cenotaph, a lightning rod of controversy in the project. In her letter, Bass cites the failure to move the Cenotaph as a reason for her departure.
“Given the recent [Texas Historical Commission] vote to leave the Cenotaph in place, the Alamo Plan the Management Committee worked on so tirelessly for the past five years is now essentially dead,” Bass wrote.
That plan, as laid out in a 2018 lease agreement between the City of San Antonio and the Texas General Land Office, includes moving and restoring the Cenotaph, preserving the Alamo Church and Long Barrack, closing vehicle traffic to Alamo Plaza, and creating a museum and visitors’ center to tell the full 300-year history of the site. The lease allows the GLO to control Alamo Plaza for at least 50 years, with two 25-year options to extend.
To implement the plan, the City, GLO, and Alamo Trust also formed the Alamo Management Committee, made up formerly of Powell, Bass, City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), City Manager Erik Walsh, GLO Senior Deputy Director Hector Valle, and GLO General Counsel Jeff Gordon. Bass also resigned from the Management Committee, which Powell left earlier this year.
Funding for the project was originally supposed to include $38 million from the City, which owns the Cenotaph and Alamo Plaza and $106 million from the Texas Legislature for use by the GLO, which owns the Alamo site itself. More than $200 million in funding for the museum was supposed to come from private fundraising led by members of the Alamo Trust board and other affiliated nonprofits. Bass was viewed as a crucial part of the fundraising effort.
But in her letter, Bass wrote that the Management Committee “agreed that we would not compromise on quality and only create a plan that was as exceptional as the Alamo itself.”
“Leaving the towering 20th-century white shiny marble Cenotaph in the middle of the historic 1836 battlefield overwhelming the quiet limestone Church and the Long Barrack certainly does not fit that description,” Bass continued. “This is why moving the Cenotaph was a critical and non-negotiable component of our committee’s plan and a requirement for the continuation of the project.”
Bass did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday seeking additional comment.
The resignations shed more light on why officials such as Treviño have claimed failing to move the Cenotaph could derail the redevelopment project. Many see the visitors’ center museum as the most critical component of the project.
“I think it just shows you that this plan was a very complex undertaking,” Treviño said Monday when asked about the resignations. “It was one of the most unique partnerships established, and the elements of the project really found the balance to get everybody at the table. And it’s really unfortunate to see that balance completely disrupted by [Texas Historical Commission Chair] John Nau and the [Texas Historical Commission].”
Treviño is one of the few officials directly involved with the project who will speak publicly about it. The GLO, a state agency, has not responded to multiple requests for comment about its plans for the Alamo following the Texas Historical Commission vote.
On Tuesday, GLO Communications Director Karina Erickson and Alamo Trust spokesman Kevin Femmel did not respond to emailed questions about the Alamo Trust resignations. The San Antonio Report requested a list of current members of the Alamo Trust board. The list posted on the nonprofit’s website dates to 2018 and includes former board member Powell’s name twice.
It’s unclear how much funding might already have been raised for the Alamo Plan. The San Antonio Report also asked the GLO and Alamo Trust for 2020 audited financial statements for the Alamo Endowment, Alamo Trust, and Remember the Alamo Foundation, all Alamo-focused nonprofits connected to the GLO, but did not receive a response. The most recent financial statements on the nonprofit’s website are from June 2019.
Those who opposed moving the Cenotaph have been much more outspoken than those pushing for the full Alamo Plan. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who in October called for an audit of the state funding already appropriated for the Alamo, has claimed that he can persuade the Texas Legislature to allocate more funding in its 2021 session.
However, Patrick also has called for a version of the Alamo redevelopment that leaves the Cenotaph in place and focuses mainly on the 1836 battle. That’s not something Treviño, an architect who’s been the City’s lead representative on the plan since 2015, seems willing to accept.
“Those dollars come from a different bucket and come with strings attached that have already been described by the lieutenant governor, and I definitely don’t support that,” Treviño said.
In Treviño’s view, the City only has two options left.
“One route is to build the Alamo Plan as agreed upon by the City, the General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment,” Treviño said. “Pursuing this path may require some adjustments of the timelines and sequencing. The other option, if the plan outlined in the lease cannot be accomplished, is to work with the GLO and unwind the lease.”
What remains to be seen is whether other City Council members will take Treviño’s side. On Thursday, the Council is scheduled to get a briefing on the issue from Assistant City Manager Lori Houston at a 1 p.m. special meeting.
Disclosure: Lew Moorman is a member of the San Antonio Report’s board of community advisors and a financial supporter.