Alamo Master Plan officials this week met with four teams that have made it onto the short list of applicants vying to win the coveted contract for the Alamo Interpretive Design Plan.
“All of them have worked on projects that everybody’s heard of,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the Rivard Report Wednesday. The identity of the firms are confidential while the review process continues. “All of them feel that [the Alamo] can become the world class project.”
The previous City Council approved the framework for the interpretive design when it voted unanimously in favor of the conceptual Master Plan in May. The historic project’s Management Committee, comprised of City, State, and Alamo Endowment representatives, hired renowned consulting firm Preservation Design Partnership (PDP) to lead the master plan team. The Management Committee, of which Treviño is a member, will also select the Interpretive Design team. That decision could be made around November.
“We don’t want to rush through this selection process,” he said. The Committee may visit previous “World Heritage-level” projects that the teams have completed all over the world.
The master plan calls for restoration of the church and long barracks, partial closure of South Alamo and Crockett streets, relocation and restoration of the 1930s Alamo Cenotaph, a 135,000-sq. ft. interactive museum, and more. The project will cost an estimated $450 million, funded largely by private donors through the Alamo Endowment, with contributions from the City, County, and State.
Philadelphia-based PDP is not a part of any of the four teams, Treviño said. It is unclear which role the firm or its Design Director George Skarmeas will play in the future, “but as the master planner, he’ll always have some kind of connection to that project.”
The design renderings that materialized in the master planning process elicited harsh criticism, especially for their proposed tree-less plaza and glass walls which many said would inhibit public access to the Alamo cathedral and its plaza. Skarmeas became the face of those proposals and received much of the criticism during public input meetings.
Treviño acknowledged that releasing such detailed renderings was “not typical.” There is no call for glass walls in the final documents, he said, rather a request for an “interpretation” of the historic walls that once lined the plaza. Those renderings represented an option, but it will be up to the Interpretive Design team to explore those options and formulate a proposal.
Judging by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s adamant rejection of glass walls lining the entire plaza, that is an unlikely option.
One of the most challenging tasks the Interpretive Design team will face is guiding the public through its thought process, Treviño said, and explain why certain design elements are or are not needed.
“As downtown advocates, Centro supports both the comprehensive Alamo narrative and the enhancement of Alamo Plaza by encouraging the strengthening of the surrounding urban environment and downtown as a whole,” Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni stated in an email. “This means an active, inclusive experience led by continued community input.”
Once a team is selected, it will partake in a series of public meetings, he added.
PDP worked with architects and firms from San Antonio, but some residents bristled at the fact that a non-local firm spearheaded the project.
“We just want to pick the best of the best and it shouldn’t matter where they come from,” Treviño said. The reality is that “the best” firm for the job may not be from San Antonio, but some applicants have local firms on their team.
The six-member Management Committee – comprised of two representatives each from the City, County, and Endowment – will work to ensure the planning process’ outcomes were created through “scholarship and not politics,” Treviño said, adding that the committee often finds itself “in debates, but we are all in agreement that we have to make this work.”
The 1836 Battle of the Alamo is just one of perhaps millions of stories about the historic site, but that one has been told for decades. The site has more than 10,000 years of history to explore: from indigenous peoples who lived and died there, to locals and visitors who stop by today.
“This will be a living, breathing exhibit project,” Treviño said. “It will continually grow and try to tell every story as factually and as thoughtfully as possible.”
The Alamo’s new CEO Douglas McDonald, an award-winning museum consultant, helped the Committee narrow down respondents to the request for proposals, Treviño said.
The vote earlier this year moved several elements of the plan forward, but City Council still has control over the street closures. If Council rejects the final design, it still has the option to disallow street closures and land conveyance. Final designs of the plaza will need approval from the two members of the Master Plan Executive Committee, which includes Mayor Nirenberg and Land Commissioner George P. Bush. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) manages the Alamo and long barracks. The City owns the plaza and surrounding streets.
The City won’t give up ownership of the streets that run through and around the plaza until the design satisfies the community and stakeholders, Nirenberg told the Rivard Report last month. “If we’re addressing all the concerns … on all sides of this then conveyance is a step in the process, not a leverage point,” he said.
The Alamo Plaza Master Plan Governance Committee is made up of Treviño, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Alamo Endowment Chair Gene Powell, Alamo Endowment board member Ramona Bass, Deputy Land Commissioner Anne Idsal, and GLO Special Council Hector Valle.