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Six design firms from three countries have been chosen as finalists by the Alamo Master Plan Management Committee to make presentations in San Antonio this month, a major milestone in an ambitious plan to better preserve the Alamo, redevelop the surrounding Plaza properties, and weave a more comprehensive story about the region’s indigenous culture, the city’s origins as a Spanish colonial outpost, and development of the Missions.
The Alamo and Missions were given a rare UNESCO World Heritage designation in 2015, and the city will celebrate its 300th anniversary in May 2018.
The six firms are vying to become the project’s “master planner and thought leader,” according to the committee’s Tuesday announcement. Once a single finalist is chosen, a team of experts and specialists will be assembled from a list of global candidates to form what one committee member called an “Alamo Dream Team.”
The committee, which has been meeting since Oct. 22 last year, includes two representatives from three entities: the Texas General Land Office, the City of San Antonio and the private Alamo Endowment. The committee intends to hear the presentations and then make its recommendation to the committee’s two-person executive committee, which includes Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who oversees the GLO and serves as the endowment chairman, and Mayor Ivy Taylor. Interviews will then get underway with finalists for specialists that will added to the team, including historians, archeologists, architects, and preservationists.
“We have six outstanding finalists, and by the end of this month we have made our selection, and we will start right away with the second round of interviews,” said Gene Powell, an Alamo Endowment director who heads up the Remember the Alamo Foundation. “We want to be rolling by the end of April, and we have promised to deliver a plan by the end of the year. The experts we have spoken with say that is a very ambitious timetable, but they also say it is do-able.”
Powell said the project is attracting national and international firms and individuals, some of whom have worked on other World Heritage projects.
“We have attracted players from all over the world to play for the Spurs, and we regard the team and all its members as just like us,” Powell said. “We don’t think about them any differently than people that are from here. We can attract the same kind of talent locally and from all over for this project.”
A draft of the master plan is expected to be finished by November.
Powell serves as chairman of the Endowment’s Remember the Alamo Foundation. Ramona Bass of Fort Worth, who grew up in San Antonio, serves as vice chair. The foundation also includes James Dannenbaum and Welcome Wilson, both of Houston. The foundation members are charged with raising between $200-300 million in private funds over the next three years to augment state funding, which totals $30 million to date and is expected to grow, and an undetermined sum the City will include in its 2017 Bond, which will go before voters in May 2017.
Powell said he expected much of the private funding to come from outside San Antonio and even outside Texas.
The six firms selected as finalists include:
David Chipperfield Architects, with principal offices in London, and offices in Berlin, Milan and Shanghai.
Fisher Heck Architects, based in San Antonio.
Grupo de Diseño Urbano, based in Mexico City and led by architect and landscape architect Mario Schjetnan, a key player brought in to the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project to work with Muñoz & Co. on design refinements to that project.
James Corner Field Operations, with principal offices in New York, and offices in London and China.
Page & Turnbull, based out of San Francisco, and offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Preservation Design Partnership, based in Philadelphia.
All six firms have a strong background in historic preservation and landscape architecture.
The Alamo was first built as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the first of five colonial missions built here. The original site of that first mission was unknown for many years, but historians now believe they have found its location along San Pedro Creek. The Alamo was the third site of the mission, which was later decommissioned by the Catholic Church and was the site of the epic Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and what became known as the Cradle of Texas Independence.
UNESCO’s 2015 designation of the Alamo and the four Spanish Missions as a World Heritage site has spurred the formation of a state/city-private sector initiative to preserve and showcase San Antonio’s colonial history that is unprecedented in contemporary Texas history.
“Everyone was skeptical in the beginning, there have been so many false starts and stops with the Alamo,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who is a member of the committee. “I am so excited to be a part of this group. We have the right leadership to do something incredible and transformative.”
Sculley said committee members all want “a bold plan with no preconceptions” created by the master plan team.
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Councilman Roberto Treviñ0 (D1), a practicing architect and the council’s point person on downtown project and design issues, said the group of finalists are “Thought leaders that have been very careful to say they will involve locals and adopt the guidelines we’ve adopted.”
Story telling is as important as the physical aspects of the project, he said.
“It is a story with many layers, many cultures,” Treviño said. “People from around the world are intrigued by the story of the Alamo, of the creation of Texas. By there also is the backstory, the story of the Missions, of Mexico, the Catholic archdiocese and the indigenous culture.”
*Top Image: Tourists get acrobatic on Alamo Plaza for a photograph to send to friends and family. Photo by Scott Ball.