This article has been updated.
Nearly a year after the Texas Historical Commission sent the Alamo redevelopment plan into a tailspin with its ruling to keep the Alamo Cenotaph in place, a revised and less costly version of the plan is starting to emerge.
The Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward, provided a comprehensive overview of the new plan, including an update on the timeline and next steps, to media outlets on Wednesday. View the trust’s presentation here; keep in mind that the images included are draft concepts under consideration — not architectural renderings.
“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes to move the Alamo Plan forward,” said Kate Rogers, who became executive director of Alamo Trust in March. “So it’ll be important that we keep the media [and the community] updated on a regular basis. … The second thing is just that there’s still a lot of misinformation floating around because it’s confusing and things have moved quickly.”
The redevelopment — a result of a partnership between the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office, and the trust — has been on the drawing board since 2014. It’s seen a number of tumultuous fits and starts. This latest plan was approved by City Council in April, though the specifics being provided this week were unavailable.
Much of the official visions have evolved over the years for the Alamo Plaza, museum, visitors center, and exhibit hall. As the Alamo Trust works to define what will be done at the site — just as important is that the community understands what will not be done, Rogers said.
“I get why people are confused,” she said. “There are elements of the old plan that people still have in their mind, so we’re trying to just get the factual story out there.”
The Cenotaph, a 1930s-era monument that honors the Alamo defenders who died during the famous 1836 battle, will not be moved. There won’t be any walls or barriers around the plaza and its floor won’t be lowered — allowing Fiesta parades to continue longstanding traditions. The three historic buildings across from the Alamo Church will not be demolished but will instead be renovated to house the visitor center and museum.
A team of historians, with the help of the city-led Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, is working on a chronological and thematic outline of the periods that five galleries will explore: Contact and Colonialism/Mission to Fort, Revolution and Independence, Battle of the Alamo, The Rise of Texas, and Lasting Significance of the Alamo.
Before being circulated through various stakeholder groups and public meetings for input, that outline will likely be finished in September, said program manager Patrick Gallagher.
“We’ve always been advocates of very open and public engagement because it doesn’t make any sense to hide what we’re doing,” Gallagher said. “We’re not changing history, we’re telling history. We are telling a story that’s over 300 years old.
The advisory committee has been live-streaming an educational series since June 1, but there is no in-person access. Public meetings will resume later this year.
“We will have meetings that are open to the public after the education series,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in an email. “We don’t have dates for those yet.”
The Alamo Management Committee‘s meetings will continue to be closed to the public.
Gallagher’s Maryland-based international museum planning and design firm, Gallagher & Associates, was hired by the Alamo Trust in April to lead the museum’s conceptual design and historical interpretation.
The Alamo Trust will hire an architectural team to finalize a design. The trust received 13 proposals from across the U.S., Rogers said. That has been pared down to six finalists who will give formal presentations to the trust in September.
Gallagher had a hand in the Gettysburg National Military Park redevelopment, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Witte Museum in San Antonio.
“He understands the complexity of dealing with a site that has layered and sometimes contested history,” Rogers said of Gallagher.
Preliminary plans for the Alamo museum include a 4D theater and a civil rights display to commemorate a lunch counter on the site that peacefully desegregated in 1960. An education center in what is now Alamo Hall will offer changing content that can dive deeper into historical perspectives beyond what is offered in the galleries, Gallagher said.
“You can expect to see lots of digital media [in the museum] that will help us be able to keep content fresh,” he said. “You can’t create a visitor center and museum today and just let it rest for 10 years. … It [needs] care and feeding all the time.”
All told, the project will cost an estimated $388 million, drawing from local, state, and philanthropic funds. Originally, the total was expected to cost $450 million when the Alamo Trust was backed by wealthy donors who abandoned the effort when it became clear that the Cenotaph was there to stay.
The estimated cost of the museum and visitor center is $250 million.
The state has already allocated $150 million for Alamo Exhibit Hall & Collections Building as well as other efforts including preservation. The $15 million exhibit hall, slated to break ground Aug. 17, will house the Alamo’s own 2,000-piece artifact collection in addition to rock musician Phil Collins’ more than 430 piece collection. The city reserved $38 million from the 2017 bond to improve the streetscapes and plaza. Bexar County will allocate $25 million over five years for the museum. An anonymous donor gave the Alamo Trust $1 million this year toward the project.
That leaves $174 million for officials to raise through private donations or tax dollars.
Ultimately, the Alamo grounds operational costs will be self-sustaining through museum fees and event rentals, Rogers said, but continued local and state money will likely be needed for ongoing preservation efforts.
Officials have estimated that the museum and visitor center will be done by 2025, but the leases for the entertainment company that currently resides there don’t expire until 2027 and 2028.
The city planned to find a comparable place for those attractions to relocate, but the establishment of an “entertainment district” never materialized.
Gallagher expects that there will be more controversial elements of the plan.
“Every project you work on has some, some air of controversy,” he said. “We will do the best we can to find the appropriate interpretive path that will be 100% historically accurate. … Some people might not like that. Sometimes being accurate means you have to tell parts of the story you don’t like to tell.”
But those uncomfortable truths are essential to telling the full story of the Alamo, he said.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Alamo Advisory Committee meetings have been and will be open to the public. The Management Committee meetings are not.
Disclosure: Kate Rogers previously served on the San Antonio Report’s board.