This story was updated at 7:10 p.m.
The Texas General Land Office and the city of San Antonio have agreed on a 50-year ground lease that would hand over control of all of Alamo Plaza to the state for 50 years. Under the rent-free agreement, a key element in the overall Alamo master plan, the state would have the option for two 25-year extensions.
The agreement cedes control of city-owned portions of Alamo Plaza—roughly the streets surrounding the church and plaza, most prominently Alamo and Houston; the Cenotaph and the area surrounding the memorial; and the public space in front of the Menger Hotel that includes the gazebo. The state already owns the Alamo chapel and Long Barrack; other structures on the complex; the gardens; and the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings across from the shrine.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the lease agreement on Oct. 18.
The agreement comes two days after Mayor Ron Nirenberg signed off on the Alamo master plan, joining Land Commissioner George P. Bush as the other member of the Alamo Executive Committee, the last step in a planning and approval process that began in 2014.
“This plan, well executed, which I think it will be, accomplishes both our desires to have an open public space, but also managed access to make sure—whether you’re a visitor or a resident—when you come to the plaza, you’re getting a sense of history,” Nirenberg told the Heron on Wednesday, “but you’re also able to participate in the civic nature of the space that we’ve been trying to protect over the last 300 years.”
Under the agreement, which would begin Jan. 1, 2019, the GLO will “promote, manage and schedule” events on the plaza. The state would lease the city-owned space at no charge, however it would contribute $50,000 annually into San Antonio’s downtown public improvement district, which funds cleaning, maintenance and visitor liaison services provided by Centro San Antonio.
“Upon signing the lease, the 1836 battlefield will be restored to its historic footprint and an Alamo museum will be built, restoring reverence to the shrine of Texas liberty,” Bush said in a statement.
In late August, early September, two other groups—the Alamo Management Committee and the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee—approved the plan after three months of contentious public debate on the latest iteration of the plan.
Currently, the proposal would close the following streets:
» Alamo Street, from Peacock Alley to Market Street
» Crockett Street, from Bonham to Losoya Street
» Houston Street, from Broadway to 3rd Street
The street closures would allow for a partial recreation of the 1836 compound footprint, a kind of open-air museum, using some form of barrier to delineate. During museum hours, Alamo visitors would enter the grounds through one primary entrance, roughly located at the Crockett building, directly across from the Alamo facade, which will become the an Alamo museum and visitors center along with the neighboring Palace and Woolworth structures. Two auxiliary entrances near the Menger and Emily Morgan hotels would open up to relieve congestion. Otherwise, during non-museum hours—roughly from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.—the grounds would be open and accessible through six entrances.
In a joint meeting Oct. 10, the city’s Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission are scheduled to vote on the street closures. The following week, on Oct. 18, the City Council is expected to vote on the street closures and lease agreement.
Some council members have said they wanted to wait and see how the process plays out before deciding on whether to support the plan. District 9 Councilman John Courage has said out-right he opposes the relocation of the Cenotaph.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who’s lead the planning process at the city level, expects the Council to approve the plan.
“We’re hoping for unanimous votes throughout, but we understand that it’s a complex project and there’s still a few issues that some council members would like to talk about some more … I think it’s going to pass, and I think it’s going to be a very momentous step forward. This is just the beginning.”
“This is about launching the ship, and there still is a lot of sailing to do.”
Since early June, when the latest version of the plan was released to the public at the Witte Museum, it has faced fierce opposition from groups including the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, This is Texas Freedom Force, the San Antonio Conservation Society, and a group of local architects and urban planners that includes prominent firm Lake|Flato, which offices a block north of the Long Barrack.
By far, the most attention has gone to the groups that oppose the relocation of the Cenotaph, from its current and original spot in front of the Long Barrack to a location roughly 500 feet south in front of the Menger Hotel. Descendants of the defenders say the location is disrespectful because it rests outside the walls their ancestors died defending.
The Conservation Society opposes any form of demolition of the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings, which is a possibility. Those structures will house the Alamo museum and visitors center. Currently, a request for proposals is out seeking a company to do an assessment on the architectural integrity of the historic buildings.
The architects oppose any form of barrier around the plaza. Treviño said no one has decided the type of barrier that will mimic the 1836 compound walls—whether they be railing, or another impediment.
So far, the state has allocated $105 million for the plan. The city of San Antonio is chipping in another $38 million—$21 million from the 2017-2022 bond program and $17 million from certificates of obligation.
Treviño has estimated the overall cost of the Alamo Plaza transformation at $250-$300 million. The Alamo Endowment will solicit private donors to make up the difference.
The Alamo master plan creates a kind of canvas, on which an interpretive plan will be developed. How best to tell the story of what happened on this site, from its creation in 1718 by Franciscan missionaries as the Mission San Antonio de Valero to its storied history as the site of the famous 1836 battle during the Texas Revolution.
The interpretive plan has yet to be crafted.