Let’s not make this a drinking game, but how many bars can you name within walking distance of Alamo Plaza? I stopped when I passed the number 50. There is something for every thirsty soul in the walkable, tourist-centric San Antonio downtown: quiet to loud, classy to tacky, elegant to casual to downright dives.
There are lots of bars in San Antonio, but only one Alamo.
As the state’s most historic and visitor-friendly city, San Antonio is known for both. The Alamo is recognized worldwide, and central to the city’s UNESCO World Heritage designation. The city also ranks as the worst in Texas for drunk driving.
Count me in among those who say the time has come to close Moses Rose’s Hideout, located at 516 E. East Houston Street adjacent to the former Woolworth’s building on Alamo Plaza. Owner Vince Cantu is the last holdout preventing the Texas General Land Office and Alamo Trust from moving forward with its planned Alamo Museum and Visitor Center.
Full disclosure: My son, Alex Rivard, is director of education at the Alamo Trust. He is not involved in Alamo Trust property acquisitions or management.
City Council on Thursday gave City Attorney Andy Segovia the authority to initiate eminent domain proceedings, allowing the city to obtain title to Cantu’s property for a market rate price.
As a journalist who has watched the Alamo redevelopment plan through its many ups and downs over the years, I want this final property acquisition to conclude with the complete relocation of entertainment venues from the Alamo Plaza and the future site of the museum and visitor center.
That’s why I oppose Cantu’s greedy desire to hold out for a ridiculous $17 million payday, what one City Council source who asked not to be named described as “extortion of the Texas taxpayer.” Cantu has been quoted in other media as saying the Alamo Trust has not entered into fair negotiations with him, but an exchange of emails and correspondence between the Alamo Trust and Cantu provided to City Council members, which I have seen, proves otherwise.
A July 2021 email from Cantu’s lawyer, Dan Eldredge, states that his client’s asking price is $17 million. Cantu later responded to a subsequent Alamo Trust email in April 2022 confirming that his attorney’s stated price remained his nonnegotiable selling price.
Cantu stated in his email responses that he sees windfall profits in his future after completion of the Alamo Museum and Visitor Center in 2025 or 2026, thus justifying his asking price which equates to a hoped for payday eight times the property’s 2022 assessed value of $2.1 million. The state, through the Alamo Trust, has upped its initial offer of $2 million in 2020, first to $2.5 million in 2021, and last year, to $3.5 million.
Subsequent efforts to continue negotiations with Cantu were met with his refusal and insistence that Trust leadership communicate with him only through his attorney, according to the email exchanges provided to Council members.
While I favor closure of the bar, I oppose the city’s plans to exercise its eminent domain rights at this juncture. Just because it’s legal doesn’t necessarily make this tool of last resort the right move right now. Anyone who has ever owned private property with an eye toward an eventual sale knows the current assessed rate, or even market rate, does not include anticipated increases in value.
Eminent domain scares citizens, and it ought to. It’s the heavy hand of the government with the power to act in an anti-democratic way. There are times when abandonment and neglect or the greater public good require the use of eminent domain where absentee or irresponsible owners cannot otherwise be productively engaged.
This isn’t one of those times, even if Cantu has been unwilling to negotiate in good faith for a fair sales price. Both sides can give ground and avoid the city’s threat of eminent domain.
Cantu is never going to convince anyone his property is worth $17 million. He risks the loss of real money in a legal proceeding that pits the city and state against a dive bar owner. He could end up receiving only fair market value of $2.1 million. Standing in the way of the museum and visitor center is not a good look, either. As anyone who has visited Moses Rose’s Hideout knows, it’s just a bar named for one of the few people who left the Alamo alive.
The GLO and Alamo Trust, along with the city working on their behalf, should make one final public offer that demonstrates goodwill and recognizes that the value of neighboring business and property owners are rising, thanks to the Alamo redevelopment plan.
If Cantu refuses, eminent domain will go down better with the public.
A negotiated compromise giving Cantu something more like $4.5 million to $5 million would allow both sides to declare victory and move forward. Such a sum in a redevelopment project that will total hundreds of millions of dollars in the end is not unreasonable to rid the plaza from its last unwanted tenant. Cantu could pocket double the property’s assessed value.
Visitors unable or unwilling to walk more than a few blocks will still find dozens of options at hand, which could even include a relocated Mose Rose’s Hideout. After all, the other entertainment businesses on the plaza have left for new downtown locations.
Cantu can publicly frame his decision as a noble one, where he has acted in the public interest.
With Council’s Thursday vote, the clock is ticking. The time to compromise is running short.