This story has been updated.
Alamo Plaza was more packed than usual this week with Spring Break.
The Alamo reports that attendance doubled, at least in the beginning of the week, compared to last week. On Monday, the shrine saw more than 6,000 visitors—which translates to about a 20-minute wait to enter the church—whereas it received about 3,000 visitors the previous Monday, March 4.
So what kind of a bump did the plaza’s attractions and other businesses receive?
Numbers specific to this week weren’t available. But the owners of some of the businesses on the plaza recently got together and did a little economic impact study on themselves. They represent 18 businesses either in or near state-owned properties on the plaza—namely the Crockett, Palace Theater and Woolworth buildings, which are slated to become the Alamo museum by 2024.
Collectively, the businesses employee 468 people, have a combined $6.1 million in annual payroll, and attract 3.5 million visitors annually, they say.
By comparison, the Alamo’s annual attendance is 1.7 million visitors, the Alamo confirmed this week.
Davis Phillips, owner of three of the attractions, and a member of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee since it was formed in 2014, added up the numbers.
He did so to prove a point. The businesses have a place and purpose in downtown San Antonio, he said. The one part of the Alamo master plan, which was approved by the City Council last October, that was barely discussed last year was the entertainment district. This is the mystery piece of land where these businesses will be relocated to in order to make room for the museum.
He describes the state (which serves as the landlord for the businesses in the aforementioned buildings), the city (which is involved in finding a location for the entertainment district) and the Alamo Endowment (which is paying for most of the $450 million plan) as having a lack of focus on the businesses their future.
Some of the businesses that would be uprooted from state-owned buildings include Jimmy John’s, two T-shirt shops, City Sightseeing San Antonio, Moses Rose’s Hideout, and Jimmy John’s. Others, such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, which occupies the former H.L. Green five-and-dime store, aren’t included in the Alamo master plan, either.
Phillips said the leases on his company’s attractions—Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Tomb Rider 3D ride and the Guinness World Records Museum—are good through 2028. He said leases for Ripley’s Entertainment, which operates three attractions on the plaza, go “well beyond that.” A call to Ripley’s Entertainment ownership was not returned.
“To be fair, the city has had discussions with us,” said Phillips, CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc. (Assistant City Manager Lori Houston) “has done what she can do at this point. The next step needs to be that the state gets involved with the city with the same tenacity and focus that they did with the Alamo plan. If that happens, I think we have an opportunity to make things work. Up until this point, that has not occurred.”
In an interview late last year, Phillips told the Heron that a buyout from the state wasn’t an option.
“That’s not an option,” he said. “There’s not enough money. That doesn’t take care of our company. It doesn’t allow us to have the cash flow that we need to survive. I’ve got family and a small investment group … I still have employees to take care of.”
In a text, Houston said the city, the Texas General Land Office and the Alamo Endowment have been committed to finding a location for the entertainment district. She said the priority now is selecting an architect to design the museum. The design of the museum, she said, would better “clarify the timing for the relocation.”
“We are being thoughtful and want to do this right,” Houston said via text. “It takes time and planning. This project will be catalytic and the partners are sensitive to the concerns of the businesses and want them to be successful wherever they are located. These attractions further diversify our tourist offerings and help us remain competitive in the market.”
The big question is: Where will the entertainment district go?
As you would expect, nobody is answering that question, not even Phillips, who’s been involved in some of these meetings, nor District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at places—yes, we’re looking at places,” Treviño said. “We can’t show all our cards for obvious reasons. Yes, we’re committed to this (entertainment district) and the city wants this. I’ve been working very hard. Lori Houston has been working very hard. We’re all working.”
Treviño said the hiring of a person or firm to create a timetable for all of the Alamo Plaza elements was discussed at the last Alamo Management Committee meeting. The elements include the entertainment district, the museum design, traffic in and around the plaza, and commercial loading zones in the area.
“There’s also a lot of things we can’t say just yet, because there are so many moving parts and so many people connected to this,” Treviño said.
The selection of an architect to design the museum has not been announced.
However, John G. Waite Associates Architects of Albany, N.Y., has been selected to assess the “integrity and the value historically” of the Crockett, Palace Theater and Woolworth buildings. According to Treviño, Waite has already started his work, having made a visit to San Antonio last week. Treviño didn’t know how long Waite’s assessment would take.
“We don’t want to put so much pressure that he can’t get the job done that he needs to get done,” he said.
In December, four preservation groups—San Antonio Conservation Society, San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAACAM), Westside Preservation Alliance, and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center—formed the Woolworth Coalition, whose purpose is to save the 1921 Woolworth building from demolition. The Woolworth at Houston and Alamo streets was one of several lunch counters in San Antonio to desegregate on March 16, 1960—the first to peacefully do so in the U.S.
Though Alamo planners haven’t said the Woolworth and its neighboring Crockett and Palace Theater buildings would be demolished, they also left demolition as a possibility. Read more here.
The Texas General Land Office did not return an interview request.