Updates from the City Council's Alamo discussion

by Ben OlivoOctober 10, 2018

Signs of support

A majority of Council members showed support for the Alamo master plan.

Some Council members thought the city was giving up too much in the 50-year land lease and management agreement, but District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse said he had no problem with it.

"The lease doesn't concern me," he said. "I for one think it's good to partner with the state ... and trust that we have the same goals that we do," Brockhouse said.

Brockhouse said the only lingering concern was the proposal to move the circa-1940 Cenotaph to its original place in front of the Long Barrack roughly 500 feet to a spot in front of the Menger Hotel. He said he'd reviewed them minutes of the City Council back when its location was approved, and that the Council back then chose the current site at the last hour.

Others throwing their support behind the plan were District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viargan, and District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña.

Saldaña said the time is now to finally move forward with the plan.

"Nobody has the monopoly on the best idea, like nobody has the monopoly on the final product," Saldaña said.

. . .


Open space?

During a meeting that lasted nearly four hours, City Council members got a chance to ask questions of city officials, architects, lawyers, and others involved in the plan, that seemed to touch on nearly every conceivable aspect of the plan—from the relocation of the Cenotaph to Fiesta parade routes.

But the topic that drew the most discussion was access to the plaza. Particularly, some council members questioned whether the Alamo grounds would remain truly an open civic space, as the plans architects and supporters, including District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño and Mayor Ron Nirenberg, have characterized it.

"What we're providing with this plan is a porous space, not an open space," District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said. "An open space is free flow."

Treviño and Nirenberg have argued that the plan (shown above) does provide an open civic space. During museum hours, roughly 9 a.m.-6 p.m., all visitors would be able to enter the plaza grounds, but they would have to enter through a main entrance roughly where the Crockett building is located, directly across from the iconic facade. Two additional entrances would open up near the Menger and Emily Morgan hotels during peak hours and weekends.

During non-museum hours, the Alamo grounds would open up via six entrances that would be open 24 hours a day.

But that explanation didn't sit well with some Council members, who are not convinced that any form of barrier is inappropriate for what is not an open space.

"OK, thank you. That clarifies what I was after, which ... I'm not wild about that idea," District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales said after Treviño explained how accessibility would work.

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval shared some of Gonzales' concerns.

"Is there going to be a fence anywhere around this structure?" Sandoval asked Treviño.

"There's going to be, as part of the design, some railing and other elements that will help direct people to the sight," Treviño said.

Sandoval said later, "I believe we also want this (Alamo) plaza to better serve the residents of San Antonio and they don't need to be guided to the formal entry point ... I'm not convinced yet that we need the fences around it."

. . .


An unusual B session

All of the major players in the contentious Alamo master plan process are here. From Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald to Lee Spencer White, president and founder of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, which vehemently opposes the plan, particularly the proposal to move the Cenotaph from its place in front of the Long Barrack to a location roughly 500 feet south in front of the Menger Hotel. White and other descendants consider the new spot disrespectful because it's outside the walls their ancestors died defending.

Members of the out-of-town design team are also here representing Reed Hilderbrand (Cambridge, Mass.), PGAV Destinations (St. Louis) and Cultural Innovations (London). Also, the tri-chairs of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee are also here: Treviño, Sue Ann Pemberton and Lionel Sosa.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley starts the discussion by giving the council a how-we-got-here update, going over the history of the tri-party agreement between the city, Texas General Land Office and the Alamo Trust, Inc.

She goes over the plans' highlights:

» Restoring of the church and Long Barrack.

» Delineating the historic footprint of the mission.

» Recapturing the historic mission plaza.

» Repurpose the Crockett, Woolworth, and Palace buildings into a visitors center and museum.

» Create a sense of arrival on site and enhance connectivity with the site and the rest of the plaza.

Treviño's about to give his presentation.

. . .

This rendering shows the south end of Alamo Plaza, where the Cenotaph would be moved to a location in front of the Menger Hotel, instead of its original and current spot in front of the Long Barrack. COURTESY RENDERING

For the first time as a group, the City Council will discuss the controversial Alamo master plan at 2 p.m. during its regular B session held every Wednesday. Later, at 5:30 p.m., the Planning Commission and Historic and Design Review Commission will vote on the plan.

Watch it live here.

Next week, on Oct. 18, the Council will vote on a ground lease and operating agreement between the city and state, and the closure of portions of Alamo, Houston and Crockett streets.

Here, look for live updates on the City Council discussion on the latest version of the Alamo plan, as well as the Planning and HDRC commissions.

At least two Council members have major concerns with the plan.

District 9 Councilman John Courage has been vocal about his support for descendants of the defenders who want the Cenotaph to remain in place in front of the Long Barrack. He's also concerned about limiting access to the plaza.

"I don't see the need to move the Cenotaph," Courage told the Heron earlier this week. "It seems to be so key to this plan moving forward. How they're pretty much trying to, I guess, recreate the boundary around Alamo Plaza with only limited access ... I've lived here 47 years. I've always felt I could talk down to the Alamo, just enjoy that area."

"I think we're getting to the point where we're going to enable the GLO (Texas General Land Office) to set boundaries around that to limit access, and I don't think that's something the city should give them the authority to do. I think it should remain an open space."

This morning in the Rivard Report, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry outlined why he's opposed to the plan. Read that op-ed here. Also, read the take of District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who's lead the planning process at the city level.

In an interview this morning, Treviño acknowledged he won't convince some City Council members.

"It's obvious I'm not going to reach some," Treviño said. "It depends on what priorities are with whom, and the best I can tell is that we have obvious differing viewpoints, which is always important. We also have a Citizens Advisory Committee that was represented by appointees from City Council and the mayor's office. We built a whole lot of consensus within the process that we created."

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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