There have been no official pronouncements, but the controversial Alamo redevelopment plan approved by San Antonio City Council two years ago this month seems destined now to join other unrealized efforts to reimagine the storied historic site that attracts millions of visitors annually and leaves so many underwhelmed.
Some version of the plan might be salvaged by the Alamo Management Committee headed by Councilman Roberto Treviño, although a Friday meeting closed to the public and media yielded no announcements. The plan’s future might now fall into the hands of lawyers for both the City of San Antonio and the state. Allies could become adversaries.
The Sept. 22 vote by the Texas Historical Commission to block the relocation of the Cenotaph calls into question other elements of the master plan and the city’s long-term lease with the General Land Office that gives the state control of the Alamo Plaza.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has been conspicuously absent from the latest battle, apparently unwilling to publicly challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has feuded with Bush over the GLO’s management of the Alamo and sided with traditionalists who do not want the site redeveloped or the mythic telling of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo subjected to more rigorous historic interpretation.
Patrick has been a serial meddler in the plan since he first sided with the small but vociferous group of protesters opposing the Cenotaph’s relocation. He was given extraordinary license at the start of the Sept. 22 THC hearing to deliver a long, windy speech opposing the permit requested by the City of San Antonio and the GLO that sought to move the Cenotaph a few hundred feet to better identify the 1836 battlefield.
Bush stunned the delegation by not even speaking at the nine-hour hearing that ended in a 12-2 vote denying the permit. THC Chairman John Nau, appointed to his position by the governor, made no effort to stop Patrick or to prevent politics from triumphing over history. He allowed Patrick to speak unchallenged for nearly 19 minutes, while others who spoke were limited to one minute.
Nau sat silently while Patrick attacked Treviño in his remarks and issued a highly unlikely claim that the state will pay the entire cost of the Alamo master plan, which could total $450 million. That’s a phony claim. The Texas Legislature will face a $10 billion budget shortfall when it convenes in January. Legislators are not going to bestow hundreds of millions of dollars on the Alamo project even as they slash billons in education funding.
Patrick made the claim because he knew already that private funding for the project was at risk due to his meddling. Sources tell me he tangled privately with Fort Worth philanthropist Ramona Bass and others on the nonprofit Alamo Endowment, which had pledged to raise $200 million or more in private funds, over her support for the Cenotaph relocation. That funding should now be considered officially at-risk in the wake of Patrick hijacking the project and Bush’s failure to confront him.
Bass and others have not spoken publicly since the THC vote but have better things to do than spend their time and wealth on a project stopped by petty politics.
Treviño met Friday with other committee members, including Bass, San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), GLO Deputy Director Hector Valle, and attorney Jeff Gordon, who serves as general counsel.
Some questions the committee now faces:
- Can Alamo Street be closed and Losoya Street redesigned if the Cenotaph is not moved?
- Will the THC oppose apparent plans to demolish historic buildings on the plaza owned by the state to make way for a museum and visitor center?
- Will the plaza’s popular tourist attractions still be forced to move off the plaza even though there is no designated site or financial agreement more than two years after the announced decision?
- Who will lead the state’s nonprofit Alamo Trust now that CEO Doug McDonald has left after declining to seek renewal of his contract?
The Cenotaph, a 20th-century monument, is as much a symbol of myth as it is history and thus has become a rallying cry for those who oppose a more thoughtful and representative telling of history. It’s hardly considered a great work of art or history, and its original siting was clumsy in terms of its scale and impact on site lines to the Alamo Chapel. Yet it’s been endowed with historical significance it never deserved. It’s now a monument to more than one lost battle.