On Thursday, the City Council is expected to approve the Alamo master plan, a $450 million endeavor that includes closing portions of Alamo, Houston and Crockett streets; leasing the plaza to the state of Texas; moving the Cenotaph while recreating much of the 1836 compound using barriers of some form; building a museum and visitors center where three historic buildings are located across the street; and rerouting the historic Battle of Flowers Parade.
The overall process, which has included representatives from the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo Endowment, state and city officials, and dozens of community members, began in 2014. Early June, however, is when things really started to heat up. That’s when the current version of the plan was released to the public, and the criticism hasn’t stopped since. Whether the plan is more unpopular than popular, or the other way around, depends on who you ask.
But much of the incessant protest has had to do with process. No one has drawn more ire from critics, no one has been yelled at more, no one has received more ridicule than District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who served on two key committees—the Alamo Management Committee and as tri-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee—during the approval process. On Wednesday, as this phase of the process winds down, I sat down with the councilman and asked him to answer some of that criticism.
Editor’s note: This isn’t the entire interview. Some parts I’ve edited for the sake of brevity. Others I’m saving for future posts.
Olivo: If you had to do it over again, in what ways could this process have been done better?
Treviño: Hindsight is 20/20. I’m really proud of this process, and to even try to say that there’s a better way would diminish what we’ve really accomplished. I can tell you this—I can say this wholeheartedly—we, and I say we, worked very hard on this project. We were thoughtful. I think everybody saw the responsibility. And so working together the way we did was the most important aspect of this entire process—how much everybody took their role to heart. I don’t think I could change the process. I was so impressed with the people involved and their heart that was in it. It wasn’t just their intellectual connection to this, but that emotional one, too—the heart that went into it. People put a lot of time and effort. We met as often as possible. We talked about this as often as possible. From the (Alamo) Management committee to the Citizens Advisory Committee, you won’t find anybody that says they would change anything, or that they were rushed.
In one of our meetings we had, that was that one meeting we had to have an executive session, because people were very disruptive in a lot of the public meetings, we only went into executive session to allow people to speak freely and not feel like there was going to be any repercussions from a very aggressive group. But the comments were amazing. The comments were, “Hey, we’re ready.” I have to admit, I wouldn’t even dare think of a way I would change it. I’m so proud of the way it occurred and how it occurred, and, yes, despite having some people trying to disrupt the meeting and trying to interject things that just weren’t so, trying to suggest that we were rushing something, trying to be as disruptive as possible—and in many cases aggressive—how steadfast everybody was. And so I’m proud to have been a part of that. I’m proud to continue that. There’s more work to do, and I’m just very proud of this entire group.
The plan as it is today, it was explained to me by someone on the Citizens Advisory Committee that this is the master plan. It’s like a canvas. You’re defining the canvas. And then what fills the canvas will be the interpretive plan. Is that accurate?
So what’s the timetable for the interpretive plan? Figuring out, like you were explaining earlier, it’s not just 1836, it’s not just the battle. There’s a whole lot of history there. When will that process start? How long will that take to figure out how to tell that multifaceted story?
That’s ongoing now … we presented this to the Citizens Advisory Committee a while back. I’m going to be entering into the record those presentations on Thursday to show it’s not very difficult to at least talk about what we mean by that, and what we mean is that we’re telling more than just 1836. We even included some language today in the lease, just clarifying language: Look, we’re going to tell indigenous, Tejano, Texian, Mexican history on site. And so it’s more complex than that, too. What I can tell you is we’ll present that—it started as early as the 1500s. What period that is, the pre-Mission, the Mission era, the many periods of our city, and what that’s about.
We have every intention, and we have demonstrated that in our discourse.
Will there be public meetings on the interpretive plan like there were on the overall master plan?
The management and citizen committees continue, and I think that there will be a lot more discussion when it comes to the museum design itself and the other elements. I expect that there will be some sense of connection to what we’re producing. Certainly, I would put it this way: Between now and our goal—and our goal … is to be done by 2024, January, that’s a little over five years away—in that, we rehabilitated the church and the Long Barrack, recaptured the mission footprint, expanded Alamo Plaza, redone a lot of streets in downtown San Antonio, designed and built a world class museum, all these elements in place. And then inside of that are the exhibits and how that lays out. That is coming. At the heart of this we continue to utilize the vision and guiding principlessa. That helps us sort of lay this out. Like I said, I’ll be entering into the record some of those presentations that we gave to the Citizens Advisory Committee. Our intention is to tell a complete story.
I’ve asked you before about the op-ed that you co-wrote in the (San Antonio) Express-News, about Alamo Plaza, the need for it to be remain a civic space, and you’ve defended it and stated your case that this plan accomplishes that. But I wanted to ask you, because during the B session last week, there were more than a few Council members who described this plan as if the Alamo grounds are now for visitors, because of the one entrance … this is what they said. I’m talking about Councilwoman Sandoval, Gonzales and, of course, Perry and Courage. I wanted to see if you can respond to this idea that the plan sort of favors the visitors experience and takes away from people who use the plaza …
Well, words have meaning. So let’s examine this whole thing. I’m not trying to parse anything. I think we all want to be visitors. Maybe you’re trying to say, because I don’t remember exactly, because I don’t know that they said “visitors.” I want to say “tourists.” Maybe you meant tourists? Right? So let me respond to that assuming that’s what they said—
Because I don’t remember exactly, but I think they meant tourists. And there’s a difference.
First, I would just point out that 95 percent of the people that currently visit the Alamo are tourists. Our goal is to create a place that welcomes more locals. And so we like to use the word “visitors.” We want more visitors. It shouldn’t matter where they’re coming from. A great site, a site that attracts many visitors, tends to attract locals. Hemisfair is a good example of that. Hemisfair doesn’t look at, “Hey, we only want to look at this group of people coming.” They want to prove that people are coming from all ZIP codes because it’s a great place. At the heart of what we’re doing is trying to design a great place. It’s a great place because it’s telling all its history. And that is, it’s one of the priorities, is making sure we’re being complete in our storytelling,
And how people arrive into the site, I’ve given many tours as we walk around to talk about this, is what it might look like and feel like and the reality is that there is an expanded plaza. It’s really going to feel much, much bigger that it is today. And so we’re saying, a bigger plaza with a portion of it that is seen as the original mission historic footprint is a more sensitive site. You have a site that is different and it requires—this is quoting the vision and guiding principles—a sense of orientation. And to provide a sense of orientation, you have to have a sense of arrival. And so what the design teams have come up with is that. We think that asking for there to be a sense of arrival and a formal entry point from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the rest of the time, it’s (open) from all angles. That is about as good a compromise as we can achieve while trying to achieve the goal of orienting people. We have to orient them into that experience.
You can literally sit outside the footprint and always look in. You can go in and look out. You have many options. We know that most people who are locals who are going to visit, they visit after working hours. After 6 p.m., it’s open. But again, we have to emphasize, it is a different site. It’s a sensitive site. We’re not going to allow things like scooters to simply just run all over this sensitive archeological site. We want there to be sort of a meaningful threshold, and now I’m just kind of speaking metaphorically. Hey, I’m kind of standing on different ground.
Should people look at this (site) differently now. One of the diagrams y’all showed was the historic footprint in the middle surrounded by the plaza. So many people now associate that space in front of the facade as being Alamo Plaza. Is it now that that space is the Alamo grounds and the plaza is everything else?
The mission historic footprint is a part of the Alamo Plaza. It’s all Alamo Plaza.
Obviously, the vote on Thursday is a historic vote, and some people have been critical of you specifically saying the reason y’all want to get it done by 2024 is the whole feather-in-your-cap argument. And I wanted to see if you can respond to that. I realize that 2024 is the 300th anniversary of the founding of the original mission, but why can’t it be done in (say) 2030?
I think being in these kinds of positions, we’re always going to be open to criticism. So, no, I won’t respond. That’s not worth a response.
I can say, I’m not the only one who wants it done by 2024. This wasn’t my singular choice. I just agree with it. I think we talk about how this process started in 2014. Much of it started in 1994, ’95. And there’s been other (people) that have tried to put this together. I would say there have been generations that have tried to do this. And while I’m flattered by anyone who thinks this is what I want, I can say this is what we want. And you know really, time is our most valuable resource. And quite frankly, go back to what this means to our city, if I could snap my fingers and see the impact of all the things I mentioned happen tomorrow, I’d do it. Because I think it helps the city that has some pains, some historical pains, that go back to this, that wants to be proud of who it is. If it’s identity, we want to benefit, we want to tell our story and we want to be proud of it. (The year) 2024 just happens to be achievable by this timeframe, but it was never a priority. It just is. So why are we going to wait?
Can you say definitely that how we got to this point was based on the process that we saw or are there other folks making decisions out there?
Here’s where I do take some exception. Let’s not spread rumors. You’re going to have to tell me what you mean by that. What do you mean by other people making decisions?
Y’all have said that a huge portion of the money is being raised philanthropically.
The Alamo Endowment.
Right. So have those—and you can’t blame me for asking this because people think this.
OK. I know. I want to help you sort of … I don’t want to be a part of some conspiracy theory. That’s for some TV show. This is reality.
I understand it. I’m just trying to acknowledge … there are a lot, a lot of people out there who feel that—For example, the donors. Has the capital campaign started?
No, not that I’m aware of.
When will that start?
When we have a project. And we won’t have a project until the vote on Thursday. And if the vote fails, then what? We don’t have a project. That process has not started. In that management committee, I know of the two people that were constantly there, and then there are a couple of other people who are also part of the (Alamo) Endowment. I would never describe them as pulling strings. In fact, I would defend them. We worked very well together. They were very open minded, they were respectful. We were all very accommodating to one another. I think rather than try to take that story that way, hey, how about the fact that this was actually a great process. These were great people, and we all sort of came together on common ground.
That’s what I know. And so if people want to spread rumors, I can’t do anything about that. But I won’t add to that either.
I’m not trying to spread rumors, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that there are a lot of people who question the validity of this process. There are people who think—and, it’s not like this stuff doesn’t happen. There are people who believe some folks who may be pledging large amounts of money to make this thing happen are somehow pulling strings.
Man, you know … And, I’m not saying you’re spreading rumors, I’m talking about the other people, I’m not saying to you.
While I can laugh at it, you’re right. Do these things happen in the world? Hell, I just saw a journalist get chopped up. That’s unreal. It almost feels like it’s not even real. I understand that. But what this world also needs is to also see that there are people with integrity here. There are. All I can do is my best to provide that level of integrity and transparency. I believe this in my core that this is a good project, much like many of the members of the Citizens Advisory Committee. I don’t think I have that kind of willpower or authority over of these many members who are very, very strong individuals on their own, and who provided incredible insight into this whole process.
You start with the management committee … you really can’t tell me that (City Manager) Sheryl Sculley is a pushover. The two members on the endowment are not. The two members of the GLO … Just go down the list of the Citizens Advisory Committee.
Our approach was to be open, to provide discussion, to be willing to disagree at times. But we did it in a way to agree to always move things forward. This was too important. And many of the reasons it’s failed in the past is because of those reasons. Sometimes people just get too hard-lined, and what we have is a historic chance to get this done.
I would never say there is no evil in the world … but I will defend this process. I can only speak for myself. Nobody’s pulling my strings.
I wasn’t trying to imply that it was nefarious. Some people may be OK with that. They like the plan …
There’s never anything OK with that. I’ll say this, too, I would say that while I understand that people can be cynical about the world, especially today—and there are some really bad examples of how we can be cynical, just look at the border, which is where I’m from, and it’s easy to lose hope and lose faith in our ability to trust others—but I’m not asking people to trust me. I’m asking people to trust what they’re seeing, to trust the language we’re using, the completeness of the story, the vision and guiding principles, the fact that we’re trying to do something. And we admit, it’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. And when we get to a stumbling block, I’m simply committed to working with everybody on it. Whatever it is, we’ll work through it. It may not be perfect. We’ll work through it. Sometimes it might be better. And that’s been the history of this project. And this is something I’ll be truly proud of the rest of my life.