The revised Alamo Master Plan that City Council will vote on later this week is a great first step forward and away from the previous master plan that was deeply flawed and would have destroyed Alamo Plaza as the city’s great civic gathering place.
I think I speak for many in the design and urban development community in urging the mayor and council to continue our long overdue journey to transform Alamo Plaza into a memorable and accessible place for all our citizens. Under the new plan, citizens will be able to freely traverse the plaza. No walls, no gates, no tickets, no restricted hours. This is a significant win for the people of San Antonio and the millions of visitors who come here to experience the Alamo.
Many unanswered questions remain regarding mobility through and around the plaza, whether we are talking vehicles, public transit, cyclists, or pedestrians. These questions and issues should be answered and resolved before the City enters into a long-term lease with the state and the General Land Office. The City will have little or no bargaining power to raise such issues once a deal has been formalized.
I applaud the City for leaving South Alamo Street as is, leaving it to a future council to decide upon flexible vehicular street closures such as weekday nights and completely closed on weekends, which the Pearl has managed with such success. Let’s allow bikes and scooters free and open access to the plaza.
An objective traffic and mobility study is badly needed. The previous master plan relied on removing the two northbound traffic lanes on South Alamo Street, making Losoya Street, which now features two southbound lanes, into a two-way street with single lanes in each direction. Reducing four pivotal north-south lanes into only two while not addressing pedestrian and bicycle access. I suggest a progressive mobility consultant be hired who advocates first for pedestrians and bicyclists while balancing service, vehicular, and transit access and flow. This should be an out-of-town consultant such as noted urban mobility consultant Nelson-Nygard.
What will be the impact of closing Alamo Plaza to vehicle traffic for people traveling to and from Southtown, or those going to or departing events at Hemisfair? If 30,000 people attend a park event, how will we move them in and out of downtown, especially if a major convention is underway or if another event at the Alamo is scheduled? In short, what will be the impact of losing South Alamo Street as a connector? Can Losoya truly work as a two-way street when it serves as the “back alley” for all the food and beverage delivery trucks that serve the plaza and River Walk venues?
Significant residential, hotel, and commercial development is on the drawing board at Hemisfair, with new construction underway south of the park. Developers are eyeing other potential projects in the downtown area. Will the changes planned for Alamo Plaza take into account the increasing density of people living and working in the surrounding blocks?
And then there is the future of other streets that lead into and out of the Alamo Plaza. Will East Houston Street remain a through street? Will public transit still ply the streets around the plaza? Will buses still be parked en masse in front of the Menger Hotel? If not, where will they idle? The previous plan targeted buses as detrimental to the structural integrity of the Alamo Chapel and Long Barracks. What does the new plan say about this?
The previous master plan team uniformly ignored San Antonio’s development and urban design professionals, as well as downtown neighborhood groups, in order to rush through the development of a tourist attraction that would have destroyed the city’s great civic gathering place. Fortunately, that same approach was not used in redeveloping the San Antonio River into the great linear park it is today. The new plan is happening too fast, with attention to the details being sacrificed.
Rushing to judgment with the state could come at a heavy cost to citizens. Elected officials should take the time now to address unanswered questions. To recreate the Alamo Plaza in the heart of the city we must consider the future and ensure that the plaza continues to be a flexible, memorable, and accessible open space.