Witte Museum CEO Marise McDermott.
Witte Museum President and CEO Marise McDermott speaks to the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee as tri-chair during its meeting on June 7. McDermott stepped down from her role on the committee on Friday. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Marise McDermott, president and CEO of the Witte Museum, resigned as tri-chair of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee Friday to turn her attention to the museum’s strategic plan and major endowment campaign.

“With all that in mind, I must resign … to focus all of my energy on Witte Forever campaign, to be launched in the next several months,” McDermott stated in a letter sent to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, with copies to her fellow chairs, Councilman Roberto Trevino (D1) and Sue Ann Pemberton, and to JJ Feik, the Witte’s board chair.

McDermott has served on the committee – which is charged with representing resident interests in the Alamo Master Plan process that aims to redevelop Alamo Plaza – since 2014, when it finalized the vision and guiding principles currently being used to inform the design process.

“If I wasn’t so focused on what I’m doing at the Witte, I would continue,”  she told the Rivard Report. The Witte has reached its $100 million goal for its “New Witte” capital campaign and now the “Witte Forever” campaign aims to raise another $100 million for an endowment by the museum’s 100th anniversary in 2026. Click here to download her letter.

A spokesman for Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that he is strongly inclined to replace McDermott as the appointed members of the citizens continue to analyze the recently released draft interpretive plan that is drawing strong reactions from the Alamo and Alamo Plaza’s many interest groups and stakeholders.

“Marise was generous with her time and expertise in representing the community,” Nirenberg said via email. “She has been vocal in the Alamo design process to ensure that the historical interpretation and experience of the Alamo visitor is world class.

“We appreciate her input, perspective and voice in the process.”

Asked if her departure could disrupt the committee’s work, McDermott said she would not leave if she thought so. “It’s a good time, if anything, from my perspective. I’m leaving it in a good place with good people. … The two [remaining] co-chairs are very strong and have been with it, like me, for a long time.”

McDermott’s presence will be missed on the committee, Treviño said, but her influence will remain.

“She’s an asset to us, and that will continue,” he said. “She helped lay down the guiding principles, and we will uphold that.  … We will continue to build on her efforts.”

Those guiding principles are:

  • The 1836 Battle of the Alamo, the most widely recognized event, provides an opportunity to tell the entire history of the Alamo area;
  • Unified leadership under the management of a single steward (public and private) with a sustainable business model;
  • Preservation and interpretation based on historical and archaeological evidence;
  • Embrace intellectual, experiential, and physical accessibility;
  • Balance scholarship, historical context, folklore, and myth to provide an engaging visitor experience
  • Create a premier visitor experience through physical space and interpretation;
  • Embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding and healing;
  • Enhance connectivity and wayfinding to the river, neighborhoods, La Villita, the cathedral, and the other Plazas.

McDermott’s letter to Nirenberg emphasized the use of the word “continuum,” saying that it’s important to recognize the ongoing history being made on the site.

“The process is going in the right direction,” she said. “The community response that the City [encouraged] and advisory committee is really strong.”

Community members have criticized proposed plans to demolish historic buildings, close down streets, move the Cenotaph, and limit Alamo Plaza for public use and free speech. Some claim the proposals “ignore” some of the guiding principles.

After a series of scheduled public meetings on the design, the committee will vote on the plan as a recommendation to City Council before it votes, Treviño said. Ultimately, the Alamo Executive Committee, comprised of Nirenberg and Land Commissioner George P. Bush must approve the multi-million-dollar, public-private project before implementation.

Each meeting on June 18, 19, 20, and 21 will start at 6:30 p.m. Click here to download details. Four more meetings are to be planned for July.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...