State, City, and Alamo management representatives will host public meetings before City Council’s first official look at the plans for the Alamo and its plaza, several people told the Rivard Report on Wednesday.
No timeline for the meetings is set because the design of the so-called “interpretive plan” is not yet finalized.
Some members of the urban design community have been concerned that the plan will be formulated behind closed doors with limited time for the public to provide feedback on it before being presented to City Council for consideration and, ultimately, a vote. On Monday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg sent a letter to Gene Powell, who sits on several key boards related to the multimillion-dollar Alamo redevelopment project, requesting that the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee and the public have ample opportunities to provide input.
City Council, the mayor, and City Manager Sheryl Sculley will determine the location and timing of the public meetings, Powell told the Rivard Report after the first public meeting of The Alamo Trust’s board Wednesday afternoon. “We’ll do whatever they ask us to do,” he said.
Nirenberg is already working to set those meetings up, Powell said.
“We have been actively discussing with city representatives on the management committee the scheduling process for meetings of stakeholder groups and the public,” Nirenberg said in an email to the Rivard Report.
One element the design team – St. Louis-based attraction design firm PGAV Destinations, London-based museum and heritage consultants Cultural Innovations, and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand – won’t include is glass walls surrounding the plaza to mimic the original boundaries of the Spanish-colonial mission.
Those were removed from the original proposal last year and are not part of the high-level master plan that was approved in May 2017 by City Council, Alamo Trust CEO Douglass McDonald said after the board meeting.
He also refuted claims that the process has not been transparent.
“There’s a whole sequence of stakeholders and groups and people that [have] always been part of the plan,” McDonald said. “Same way as we did last time [with the master plan] … this plan has always been transparent.”
“The fact that so many people are so opinionated about it” is proof that the plan has reached wide audiences, he said. “[They understand] exactly what they don’t like and people know what they do like.”
A series of public meetings were held at the Henry B. González Convention Center before the master plan went to City Council last year. Many criticized the glass walls, plans to remove trees and relocate the Cenotaph, and partial closure of South Alamo and Crockett streets. Moving the Cenotaph and limiting streets to pedestrian traffic received “conceptual approval,” meaning that those elements could be part of the final the plan.
Opposition to moving the 1936-era Cenotaph, a hollow tomb for the defenders of the Alamo, was in no short supply at the board meeting Wednesday. After complaints about the closed-door meetings last year, the sessions were made public, and 11 members of the public took the opportunity – within a three-minute time limit – to voice their concerns. Each opposed moving the Cenotaph.
Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, told the board that most descendants want to keep the Cenotaph where it is.
“If you move that Cenotaph, you’re throwing dirt in the face of the Alamo defenders,” she said.
Several members of the This Is Texas Freedom Force, a group that protested the removal of a Confederate statue in Travis Park last year, spoke out against the statue’s relocation.
“There’s no done deal,” McDonald told the Rivard Report. “This is a process.”
The original plan suggested the Cenotaph be moved closer to Market Street and the San Antonio River Walk, but that will not likely be recommended in the plan, McDonald said. “We’ll continue to talk to the public more” before a decision is made. “We’re not done with the planning exercise yet.
“We’ll never have consensus around anything. We don’t have consensus for leaving it as-is,” he continued. “We have an opportunity to do something really significant, but it’s going to require compromise on the part of all parties to do something tremendous or we will be left with the status quo – which would be tragic.”
Preserving open access to the plaza, church, and long barracks is the top concern expressed by community members so far, Powell said. “The [Alamo Management] Committee has heard that loud and clear.”
The Alamo Management Committee was formed as part of an agreement between the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Endowment to jointly fund and plan the redevelopment of the Alamo and surrounding area. Two members from each organization sit on the Management Committee including Powell, Sculley, and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).
Treviño is also a tri-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee with Marise McDermott, the Witte Museum’s president and CEO, and Sue Ann Pemberton, assistant professor of architecture and historic preservation at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Treviño confirmed Wednesday that the committees have been meeting with the design team.
“All of those people need to be heard,” Powell said. “I promise you the committee has the designers working on how do we take into consideration everybody’s point of view and give everybody as much as we can of what they are requesting.”