For the first time in contemporary history, the Texas Legislature is poised to provide major funding for care of the Alamo and future redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza with a $25 million appropriation for a new Master Plan in addition to $6.5 million already set to be appropriated for Alamo maintenance and repairs.
State funding in past years has been limited to $1.5 million in each biennial budget for the Alamo’s upkeep.
The major appropriation comes months after the Texas General Land Office under Commissioner George P. Bush took custody of the Alamo after a century of control by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The appropriation comes a little more than one year after City Council passed an ordinance establishing a 21-person Alamo Advisory Committee to re-examine the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee Report and Recommendations and develop an updated set of recommendations.
It is now expected that the GLO and the City of San Antonio will proceed hand-in-hand in assembling a new advisory committee and working together on a new master plan to better honor the site’s history. The plan is expected to lead to the eventual construction of a new museum to tell the story of the site from indigenous times through the early 18th century building of Mission San Antonio de Valero to its abandonment and use as a fort in the famous 1836 Battle of the Alamo.
(See General Land Office budget document here.)
“I did talk with the Speaker (Joe Straus, R-San Antonio) on Wednesday about State investments in San Antonio through the appropriations process, and received the exciting news regarding the $25 million for the master plan and the $6 million for deferred maintenance,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said Friday. “We actually tried several approaches to securing funding and I want to thank Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) and our IGR committee and City staff for their perseverance in securing the $31 million.
“The strong commitment to advocating for this appropriation by San Antonians really shows how important the Alamo is to our community, but the appropriation also shows how important the Alamo is to the State of Texas—and beyond,” the mayor added. “The Alamo is a symbol known throughout the world. We have already laid a strong foundation for developing the master plan and its implementation by partnering with the GLO. We revised and reissued our planning RFQ and have included state representation on the review committee. I am pleased to say that the City of San Antonio enjoys a great working relationship with Commissioner George P. Bush and his staff. “
The state budget rider approved May 20 states, “As part of the Master Plan development process, out of funds identified by this rider, the General Land Office (GLO) shall conduct a comprehensive needs assessment for the preservation and maintenance of the Alamo and Alamo Complex, which shall include an evaluation of necessary repairs to the Alamo and other Alamo Complex facilities by a person or persons qualified to make such assessments in accordance with recognized historical preservation standards, and an evaluation addressing the full and long-term costs of maintaining the Alamo and the Alamo Complex.
“A report on the needs assessment, the Master Plan and activities and expenditures made to implement the Plan, shall be provided to the Eighty-fifth Legislature no later than December 1, 2016.”
“I’m proud the members of our Legislature have spoken and said the Alamo is important, which is significant not only for San Antonio, but for Texas,” said David Barnett, a San Antonio business consultant who often works on downtown projects for Rackspace Co-Founder and Chairman Graham Weston. “The epic story of sacrifice will now be told in a more memorable way to our children and to visitors from around the world. The eventual development of a world-class museum and experience will have a significant economic impact on San Antonio.”
Barnett said several months of work on the Alamo funding, in tandem with San Antonio attorney Chris Shields, the former lobbyist for the City and other San Antonio municipal entities, was carried out pro bono by both men. Barnett is credited by Weston as conceiving the idea that became the Weston Urban/Frost Bank Tower deal with the City.
“One of the legislators asked me who my client was when we first made our funding requests,” Shields said Thursday. “I told him, ‘Actually, I don’t have a client. This a pro bono labor of love.” Shields, who still represents several local entities as a lobbyist, including Toyota, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and Port San Antonio. He’s a descendant of Canary Island founders of the city. “I had relatives fighting at the Alamo. It feels very special to have helped make this happen.”
Their efforts included distribution of a seven-minute video featuring a vintage John Wayne “Alamo” background clip, and testimonials from Red McCombs and Henry Cisneros intended to appeal emotionally to legislators and other top state officials. It didn’t hurt, Shields said, that Speaker of the House Joe Straus is from San Antonio and needed no convincing on the importance of the Alamo and Alamo Plaza or the need for greater financial support.
“We wouldn’t have accomplished anything without the Speaker,” Shields said.
“I am so excited: This is the first time in history that the state has accepted its responsibility to provide the necessary funding for the Alamo,” Shields said. “This is a magnificent step forward. It’s almost a symbolic statement that the state is now committed to do something to make it right with the Alamo. That’s a very big deal.
Even in the closing days of the session, the Legislature is not finished with the Alamo.
House Bill 2968, now before the Senate, calls on the General Land Office and the City of San Antonio to work together on a new master plan. An earlier version of the bill called for a nine-person Alamo Advisory Committee to be named by state and city officials, but that was stripped from the bill to try to win support in the Senate where Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) is still seeking votes for her Senate Bill 191, the Protect the Alamo Act, that seeks to prevent what others say is impossible: a foreign takeover of the Alamo.
Efforts by Shields and Barnett to win new levels of funding for the Alamo and redevelopment of the Alamo Plaza have occurred largely out of the spotlight since the session began. At the outset, they boldly sought a $250 million appropriation from the Rainy Day Fund.
“We thought winning a huge chunk of state money would make private fundraising that much easier,” Shields said, “but that would have involved a ballot initiative, and there were other interests seeking funding for education and transportation, so it didn’t work.”
They then proposed a $50 million appropriation, which Senate and House budget negotiators whittled down to $25 million, still an unprecedented sum that will be appropriated in 2016 to the GLO rather than over the two-year budget cycle.
Gov. Greg Abbott recently appointed several prominent Texans to a newly formed Alamo Endowment. Commissioner Bush is the chairman of the board, and members include B.J. “Red” McCombs and former Rackspace President Lew Moorman.
The board has not yet started its work, but the Alamo was the scene of a high profile launch of a new 10-hour miniseries about the Texas Revolution and the rise of the Texas Rangers. “Texas Rising,” by HISTORY (formerly the History Channel), begins on Memorial Day, May 25. The series will air episodes at 8 p.m. on five consecutive nights.
Commissioner Bush, on hand for the red carpet, celebrity mixer in the Alamo Plaza last weekend, said he wants the Alamo Endowment to be a fundraising powerhouse to ensure that the Alamo never again falls into disrepair or short of funds to be professionally curated.
Adding a museum to the Plaza will provide a home for hundreds of artifacts from the Battle of the Alamo and earlier occupation of the site. Singer Phil Collins has donated more than 200 artifacts from his world-class collection for museum display, and local officials say filmmaker and producer David Zucker (“Naked Gun”) has pledged his collection of Alamo artifacts if an on-site museum is constructed.
The appropriation and plans to undertake a joint state-city master plan effort should enhance San Antonio’s bid to win World Heritage Site recognition for the Missions and the Alamo. The nomination will be formally considered at UNESCO‘s 39th World Heritage Committee meeting in Bonn, Germany, June 28-July 8. Representatives from 21 member nations will decide whether to grant World Heritage Site status after hearing the formal presentation and discussing the matter. Such recognition is usually achieved by consensus, with a vote occurring only if there is serious disagreement among committee members.
The U.S. State Department announced earlier this month that the International Council on Monuments and Sites had endorsed the 2014 World Heritage nomination of the Alamo and Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada, bringing San Antonio’s Spanish colonial treasures one step closer to the coveted international recognition.
There are 1,007 World Heritage sites around the world, but only 22 are located in the United States. Most of the U.S. sites are natural wonders located in national and state parks, or Native American dwellings or burial sites.
“The great state of Texas has zero World Heritage Sites, so if we are recognized we will be the first World Heritage Site in the state of Texas which is a significant achievement,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said earlier this week as Commissioners Court formally endorsed the nomination.
Betty Bueché, the director of Bexar County Facilities and Parks Department, who presented the proposal to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, said the World Heritage designation could boost San Antonio’s economy by $105 million annually. An increase in visitor traffic also is estimated to produce up to 1,100 jobs and as much as $2.2 million in additional hotel tax revenue, according to a 2013 report by the Harbinger Consulting Group.
Wolff, and whoever is elected mayor in the June 13 runoff between interim Mayor Ivy Taylor and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, will lead a local delegation to Bonn. Wolff said last week that he expects the Missions presentation and discussion to take place on July 5, an event that will be live streamed.
*Featured/top image: The Alamo Cenotaph. Photo by Scott Ball.