Douglass McDonald, an award-winning museum consultant with more than three decades of experience, started work as the Alamo‘s CEO on Wednesday. McDonald comes to San Antonio from Cincinnati to manage the historic site in the planning stages of a major renovation and restoration project expected to take at least seven years.
As CEO, McDonald will oversee both Alamo Complex Management and Alamo Endowment employees, and Becky Dinnin will focus on community outreach and development as the Alamo Endowment executive director.
McDonald signed a one-year contract with the Texas General Land Office to oversee management of administrative functions and will also report to the endowment to “streamline our reporting structure and ensure cohesion between the two entities as we continue to move forward,” stated Brittany Eck, press secretary for Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, in an email.
The first elements of the Alamo master plan were approved by City Council in May, but several proposed design elements were harshly criticized by the community and City leaders. The glass walls surrounding the plaza and blocking foot traffic, for instance, are said to be dead.
McDonald will also be part of the design and programming phases as the master plan makes its way through community, committee, and City Council approval processes.
“It’s the most exciting project in the country,” McDonald told the Rivard Report on Thursday. “Absolutely the CEO is part of shaping how the plan evolves. … There are a lot of things that have yet to be decided.”
McDonald worked with designers of the proposed Alamo master plan for about six months and has experience with indoor and outdoor spaces, according to his résumé.
“I have been around the project for a while, but it’s a different role,” McDonald said. “The first step will be to listen. … People will probably talk to me differently now [that I have a more permanent role].”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg sat on stage during a recent luncheon event and asked more than 300 people in the Pearl Stable if they were in favor of the glass walls proposed as part of the redevelopment of the Alamo.
Not one hand went up.
“There’s your answer,” Nirenberg told Rivard Report Publisher Robert Rivard when asked about the Alamo plans.
He has run into perhaps two or three people who want the walls, Nirenberg said. “We don’t want the Alamo to fail on its historical accuracy by putting something like a wall around it. … It is the center of public life.”
While the multimillion-dollar effort to “reimagine” the Alamo should dive deep into what happened over the past 300 years and beyond, it should also consider “what happened three days ago,” he said.
Nirenberg later told the Rivard Report that he conveyed his concerns to Bush during a recent meeting.
City leaders and community members identified several issues with the proposed plaza design, including the glass walls, the removal of trees, and public access.
“I don’t have any personal opinions on those [proposed elements],” McDonald said. “But there is no approved concept of a wall system of any sort. … These are decisions yet to be made.
“It’s unlikely that every person in the state of Texas is going to agree on the final design, but we’re going to listen.”
Final designs of the plaza will need approval from the two members of the master plan Executive Committee, which includes Nirenberg and Bush. The City has yet to convey the streets that run through and around the plaza and won’t until the final design satisfies the community and stakeholders, Nirenberg said.
“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.
Some sources close to the process have told the Rivard Report that George Skarmeas, director of Preservation Design Partnership (PDP) who was leading the design team, will take a step back from the design and focus on preservation of the Alamo and long barracks.
McDonald served as president and CEO of the Cincinnati Museum Center and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for more than 15 years before raising nearly $200 million with local and state leaders for the historic Union Terminal restoration project.
He started his career as director of operations and treasurer for Conner Prairie interactive history park in Fishers, Indiana (1983-1995).
The 1836 Prairietown section of the 1,000-acre park features “people, animals, objects, and routines of life in Central Indiana in 1836. You can study in the one-room schoolhouse, help with chores, or watch a tradesperson at work,” according to its website.
That year certainly has significance in Texas. The 1836 Battle of the Alamo is the focal point of programming and design for the estimated $450 million redevelopment of the Alamo and its surrounding plaza. The project will include a 135,000-sq. ft. interactive museum, restoration, and preservation of the church and long barracks, and more.
“I started work in museums 30 years ago in 1836,” McDonald said. “Now, 30 years later, I’m going back to 1836.”
McDonald said there is great potential in expanding the “living history” and re-enactment program at the Alamo. He would like to see more of that programming, as well as larger celebrations that are open and publicly accessible.
Among the awards McDonald has received over the past 33 years are the Outstanding President Award from Kiwanis International, the Queen City Advocate Award, and the 2010 NAACP Community Outreach/Partnership Award. He is also regularly listed in Cincy Business Magazine’s “Power 100” list.
Dinnin will still be involved with the Alamo, but the addition of the new CEO will allow her to focus more on the Alamo Endowment’s community outreach and development needs.
“Over the next year the long-term administrative structure of the Alamo will be studied and refined,” Eck stated. “His experience and knowledge will be vital during that process.”