Roughly 200 people listened in on — and often times interrupted — the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee meeting tonight at City Council chambers, as the 29-member committee approved a version of the Alamo interpretive plan that includes relocating the Cenotaph memorial, rerouting the Battle of Flowers Parade, and enclosing the plaza, which will be accessed by one primary entrance.
As District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño moved through welcoming remarks, he received the first disruption of the evening from a crowd mostly opposed to moving the Cenotaph about 500 feet south to a spot in front of the Menger Hotel. Assertively, he told the crowd, many of whom held signs of protestation, that outbursts wouldn’t be tolerated inside City Council chambers and that police would eject anyone who further disrupted the meeting.
Overall, the citizens committee, which began meeting in 2014, passed seven resolutions after comments from tri-chairs Treviño, Sue Ann Pemberton and Lionel Sosa. Only committee member Ann McGlone, an architect, spoke her mind as Treviño moved through the resolutions, sharing her concerns over an assessment process of the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings that are being eyed for a museum. On this issue, 96 percent of committee members voted in favor, while 4 percent voted in opposition.
The resolution that received the most pushback was one that would recreate the 1836 Alamo compound footprint by enclosing it with barriers and funneling visitors into one main entrance at the Crockett building — 92 percent voted in support, while 8 percent opposed the measure.
The resolutions to close portions of Alamo, Houston and Crockett streets, and to change the Battle of Flowers Parade route passed quietly and unanimously.
The resolution to move the Cenotaph passed unanimously, stirring protesters’ passions, and there began the expulsions.
The final two resolutions — the site plan and framework, and a master lease agreement that would hand over control of city-owned plaza property to the state’s General Land Office — passed unanimously.
Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force, the most vocal group that's opposed the relocating of the Cenotaph, was the first of a handful of citizens escorted out of City Council chambers by police officers for interrupting the meeting.
"We're staying in the fight," Burkhart said after the meeting outside the building. "We have a few things that we've got lined up."
He declined to elaborate.
He added, "We're Texans and the word 'quit' is not in our blood line nor our vocabulary. And we are going to stay with this the entire way, and we are going to raise as much hell, and when the day comes, we're going to go after Treviño and we're going to go after (Mayor Ron) Nirenberg, and anyone who votes 'yes,' we will go after them."
In attendance was a small cadre of members of the San Antonio Conservation Society, which opposes several aspects of the plan. But their main concern is saving as much of the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings as possible.
“We don’t need a new building for a museum,” society board member Mary Fisher said, adding that there are buildings all over the world that are repurposed for museums.
The buildings “ demonstrate the evolution of Alamo Plaza,” “Saving San Antonio” author Lewis F. Fisher said. “They have true historical and architectural significance.”
Holding up the posters he collected from the event, he said, “I think I’m gonna put some of this stuff on eBay. There are Alamo fans all across the country.”
Not all of the signs protested the plan. San Antonio artist Kathy Sosa, wife of tri-chair Lionel Sosa, made red signs with white letters that said, “Keep Calm y Join Manos.”
“I am very encouraged by the ability of my neighbors to work together,” she said after the meeting. She also gave T-shirts to the committee members out of appreciation of their work.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron: Keri Killyer, director of research for This is Texas Freedom Force, is escorted out of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee Thursday night at City Council chambers.
Updated 6:30 a.m.
After vocal protests at public meetings over the summer, the Battle of Flowers Association has agreed to change its historic route to accommodate the Alamo interpretive plan, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said Wednesday night via text. [ View updates to the plan. ]
The Fiesta Flambeau Parade Association and the Texas Cavaliers have also agreed to the changes. The Cavaliers' Fiesta parade takes place on the river, but the investiture of King Antonio takes place at the Alamo.
Instead of traveling north to south in front of the shrine on Alamo Street, the new route will move behind the complex on Bonham Street and approach the facade from the east alongside the Menger Hotel.
Traditionally, the floats and other entries stopped when they reached a direct line of sight with the facade flanked by grandstand seating. Cadets would then take flower arrangements from the float and carry them 200 feet to the roped-off greensward in front of the church to honor the defenders of the famous 1836 battle.
However, under the latest draft of the Alamo interpretive plan, Alamo Street would be permanently closed to traffic and encircled using some form of barriers to make a kind of open-air museum. Visitors would enter at the historic Crockett Building, the three-story building directly across the street from the church that's home to a visitors center and gift shops.
Under the agreed upon plan, the flower ceremony will take place closer to the Menger, where south gate palisade will be recreated as part of the permanent plan. This gate is referred to as the entrance of the Alamo compound, according to a memorandum of understanding between Treviño and the Texas Cavaliers. The cadets would walk a lesser distance of 80 feet to get to the greensward.
Treviño said while an agreement has been reached with Fiesta’s main parade groups, there are still some “stipulations we are still discussing, but they deal mostly with the Fiesta Commission and the state of Texas.”
For the Battle of Flowers Association, the agreement is complete 180-degree reversal of its stance to keep the route in place: “We want the route!” That’s what the group chanted at one of the public Alamo meetings in June.
— Ben Olivo (@rbolivo) June 22, 2018
Anne-Laura Block, president of the Battle of Flowers Association, did not return an interview request Wednesday night.
The 29-member Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee is scheduled to vote on the plan 6:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 30) at City Council chambers in the Municipal Plaza building, 105 Main Plaza. The plan eventually goes to the Alamo Executive Committee — composed of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush.
It's scheduled to go before the City Council on Oct. 18, when the Council will vote on whether to lease city-owned plaza property to the state, and on the Alamo and Houston streets closures.
Renderings and maps courtesy the Alamo; photo by Ben Olivo | San Antonio Heron
Treviño: Alamo grounds will have one primary entrance during museum hours
Updated: Click here for the presentation that was shown to the public Monday night.
The current, and perhaps final, version of the Alamo interpretive plan — made available to the media on Monday, but not the general public — shows very little was changed from the version that was first made public in early June. Several controversial aspects remain, including enclosing the Alamo grounds during museum hours, rerouting the Battle of Flowers Parade, and relocating the Cenotaph memorial.
In a public briefing Monday night at the Menger Hotel, District 1 Councilman Robert Treviño and members of the design team gave a 30-minute presentation before going into executive session (behind closed doors) with the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee to deliberate on five key points of the plan. This confounded some among the roughly 60 attendees who were expecting a meatier presentation, and who were not allowed to comment.
“When you talk about the interpretation of the Battle of the Alamo, that's one of the five core concepts they are supposed to address,” said Fernando Centeno, a critic of the plan who penned an op-ed in the Express-News a few weeks ago. “As far as I'm concerned, they failed. And then on top of it, they didn't allow for public commentary. It’s just a real bummer.”
Kathy Acock, a third generation CEO of a family-owned commercial construction company from Houston, took a self-guided tour of the plaza grounds that was offered to meeting attendees.
“I don’t care where they move this monument (Cenotaph) or that tree,” Acock said. “Make it tell the story in all of its magnitude and magnificence.”
Earlier in the day, Treviño and the two other tri-chairs of the Citizens Advisory Committee — Sue Ann Pemberton and Lionel Sosa — and city and Alamo officials, shared specifics on five key recommendations with the media.
Here, we’ve summarized the five key points:
» The Alamo’s 1836 footprint would be defined using a “combination of architectural elements,” Treviño said. “Is it all going to be railing? Highly doubtful.”
During museum hours, people would enter the open-air museum through the Crockett building, directly across from the church, which would serve as the formal entrance. The single entrance would orient visitors as they prepare to enter the museum grounds “to provide that experience they're not getting today,” he said. When the visitor count is high, two auxiliary access points — by the Menger and Emily Morgan hotels — could be opened.
“If you want to go to the plaza, you're able to go to the plaza for free — that will continue,” Treviño said at the Heron’s media briefing. “We've also added two more auxiliary points of entry, if needed — and I want to stress, if needed.”
During non-museum hours, the public could enter the grounds through six access points.
After the Heron’s briefing, Sosa, who had to leave the interview shortly after it started, called the Heron to describe a slightly different experience. He said the Crockett building entrance and the two auxiliary entrances would remain open pretty much all the time.
“If someone wants to come in and doesn’t want the museum experience, they can come in through the north or south entrances,” Sosa said.
During the Monday night meeting, when asked about whether Sosa’s description of three consistent access points was accurate, Treviño said, “No, that's not right.
“That is a nuance that was worked out in the management committee and I'm on the management committee. … They are access points and they're available should we need them.
“We know that having three access points open at all times could be costly, so they would do it as needed. If there's a need to open up those points, we will. They wouldn't be open for the sake of being open. We want people to take the formal entrance.”
Walling off the Alamo grounds was a concern raised in a July 21 Express-News op-ed authored by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Judge Nelson Wolff — and Treviño.
“The still-evolving Alamo plan must preserve public access to this community space," the triumvirate wrote. "We oppose any type of barrier that that would limit access to Plaza at any time, other than for special events."
When asked whether his support for the walled off version of the plan contradicted the opinion piece he helped co-author, he said “What we wrote was that the site needed to be maintained as a civic space aside from special or schedule events. And so that, I think, is addressed by what we're telling you: The museum hours are special scheduled and special events. Non-museum hours, it's open.”
The SA Heron contacted Nirenberg’s office to ask about the enclosed-grounds version of the plan moving forward. Bruce Davidson, communications director, returned our call and said, “The mayor has no comment until after it goes through a few more stages.”
The idea of using physical barriers to define the 1836 footprint has irked a cadre of local architects and urban planners.
“This plaza was given by the Catholic Church to city of San Antonio. It is free and open public space,” Lake|Flato partner and co-founder David Lake said. “As long as anyone tries to circumvent moving in front of the Alamo, and free will, I am totally opposed, as are all the developers downtown and all the architects.”
» The Battle of Flowers Parade route would change (as shown in the featured image). There is more than one route recommended. In one version, highlighted by Treviño, the parade would travel behind the church and approach a palisade on the south end. There, the parade’s tradition of cadets taking a bouquet of flowers from parade entrants and walking them to the greensward in front of the church would be held. Currently, the route stops in front of the church on Alamo Street, where cadets perform the ceremony.
At the meeting Monday night, Anna-Laura Block, president of the Battle of Flowers Parade Association, said the group doesn’t oppose the overall plan. “Our parade executives will need time to digest the options for the parade ceremonies to continue,” she said. In a meeting June 21, Block and other members of the association railed against the notion of rerouting the parade, at one point chanting, “We want the route!”
— Ben Olivo (@rbolivo) June 22, 2018
» The recommendation to move the Cenotaph roughly 500 feet south to a location in front of the Menger Hotel is unchanged. This has been the most contentious of all of the recommendations, drawing at least a dozen opponents — mainly, members of This is Texas Freedom Force and the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association — to each of the nine meetings held in San Antonio since June 7.
Susan Green, who lives on Houston Street, attended tonight’s meeting with a paper bag full of 11.5-by-8 inch posters on sticks — which said “Don’t do it! Don’t remove Cenotaph. Don’t remove parade route. Don’t remove plaza access. Don’t remove rock walls and gardens. Don’t remove historic buildings. We will never forget!” — which she freely shared with anyone.
“I’m a patriotic American,” she said. “It’s a centennial memorial. It’s a slap in the face of anyone who serves our country today to move a monument.”
About 15 attendees displayed her signs, or others. Some interjected their commentary during a presentation by John Kasman of PGAV Destinations, Eric Kramer of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects and representatives from other companies. Audience intrusions came frequently during the Cenotaph portion of the meeting with exclamations of “Leave it alone!”
» The plan indicates the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings remain important, but also require a significant museum. On Friday, the Alamo issued a request for qualifications seeking an architectural historian to “assess and report on the significance” (or otherwise) of the three historic buildings. The plan includes the possibility of demolishing portions of the three historic buildings, a notion that has been vehemently opposed by the San Antonio Conservation Society.
“Having more than just the facade is the greater goal,” said Pemberton, who's a former president of the conservation society.
When asked about whether a story of the Woolworth lunch counter being the first integrated lunch counter in America would be told, Alamo CEO Douglass W. McDonald said they would need to gather more information on its history.
“It’s all part of the study. We know that it was in the basement. We know there was a lunch counter … As we go down the road, we research this.”
Conservation Society President Susan Beavin called the three Alamo Plaza buildings the group’s “new primary focus.”
» Finally, Alamo Street within the plaza would close, as well as portions of Houston and Crockett streets with an aim towards redefining the 1836 footprint of the Alamo complex.
The 29-member Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee is scheduled to vote on the recommendations at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Council chambers in the Municipal Plaza building, 105 Main Plaza.
Afterward, the plan is sent to the Alamo Executive Committee — a two-person group composed of Nirenberg and Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush.
The plan will also be presented to the Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission, before landing in front of City Council on Oct. 18, Treviño said. Specifically, the Council’s purview is whether to lease city-owned plaza property to the state, and on the Alamo and Houston streets closures.
Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
Setting It Straight: An early version of this story misspelled the names of San Antonio Conservation Society President Susan Beavin and PGAV Destinations Vice President John Kasman.
Renderings and graphics courtesy of the Alamo
Next week, the public will have two opportunities to view the latest draft of the Alamo interpretive plan when it’s presented to the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday and Thursday. Unlike a series of meetings held in June, the public will not have a chance to voice opinions.
The 29-member citizens committee will be briefed on the latest draft on Monday, and vote on the plan on Thursday. A vote of approval will send the interpretive plan to the Alamo Executive Committee — a two-member body composed of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush.
"I can say that the citizens advisory committee is ready, they’re ready to move the plan forward," District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño told the Heron Thursday night.
It must also be presented to the Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission, before ultimately heading to City Council for a vote on Oct. 18, Treviño said. Specifically, the Council will vote on whether to lease city-owned property on the plaza to the state, as well as on the closure of parts of Alamo and Houston streets.
“There’s still a lot more public engagement just through those committees,” Treviño said.
In early June, the citizens committee and the public at large got its first look at the latest version of the plan crafted by Reed Hilderbrand (Cambridge, Mass.), PGAV Destinations (St. Louis) and Cultural Innovations (London). Since then, groups have opposed aspects of the plan. Mainly, the opposition has come from two groups representing the descendants of the Alamo defenders — This is Texas Freedom Force and the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association. But pushback has also come from the San Antonio Conservation Society, the Battle of Flowers Association, and a cadre of local architects and urban planners. Even Nirenberg, in an op-ed published in the San Antonio Express-News, and co-authored with Treviño and County Judge Nelson Wolff, opposed the concept of adding railing to trace the footprint of the 1836 compound. District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse countered with his own Express-News opinion piece criticizing Nirenberg and the public process.
But mainly, the narrative so far has been about whether to move the Cenotaph. Under the plan, the monument would move roughly 500 feet south to a place in front of the Menger Hotel. The descendants have likened the notion of moving the Cenotaph to the idea of moving the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an unthinkable act, while advocates of the move say it's necessary to reclaim as much of the 1836 footprint as possible.
If the Council approves the plan in October, work would then begin on various aspects of the plan, which includes converting the series of historic buildings opposite the Long Barrack into a museum.
The meeting on Monday is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Menger Hotel, 204 Alamo Plaza.
For the first 30 minutes, the citizens committee will be briefed on the interpretive plan by PGAV Destinations Vice President John Kasman and Reed Hilderbrand Principal and Partner Eric Kramer. The public can “attend and listen” during the briefing, according to a flyer the Alamo is circulating, but, again, there won’t be an opportunity for public comment.
At 6:30 p.m., the public is invited to attend an open house on the plaza while committee members enter an executive session to discuss "real estate matters related to the proposed site strategies identified in the Comprehensive Interpretive Plan," according to an agenda posted on the city’s website Thursday night.
The tour will be self-guided, but Alamo staffers will be on hand to assist, said Trish DeBerry, president and CEO of the DeBerry Group, which is handling the interpretive plan’s marketing and public relations.
Visitors will be able to hear the historical stories and see more closely what the space may become and how it might feel.
Then on Thursday, the citizens committee will meet for potentially the last time during this phase of the planning, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday at City Council chambers in the Municipal Plaza building, 105 Main Plaza. It will hear its tri-chairs — Treviño, Lionel Sosa and Sue Ann Pemberton — present committee recommendations followed by discussion. The public is welcome to — again — "attend and listen."
On Thursday night, Treviño responded to potential criticism that the final meetings of the citizens committee have been rushed, considering the fact that meeting details were not posted to the View the agendas here.city's agendas page until late Thursday night. Since early June, Treviño and city officials have been hammered by the various groups about the public input process.
"I reject any idea or notion that this hasn’t been talked about enough" Treviño said. "We’ve had hundreds of meetings. My day is filled with Alamo meetings, Alamo meetings."
He added, “For anybody to say there was no input or no evolution of the plan, they don’t know what’s going on. They weren’t around the last four years."
A timeline of meetings provided by Treviño's office shows the public planning began in 2012 with placemaking workshops and stakeholder interviews and meetings. The citizens advisory committee met for the first time in May 2014. This year, for the latest version of the plan, seven meetings have been held in San Antonio. Since the design was unveiled in early June, meetings have been held in Austin, Fort Worth and Sealy.
» Explaining the impacts of a two-way Losoya Street
» Treviño: Keeping the Alamo Cenitaph in place is not an option
» Despite Treviño's firm stance, Cenotaph activists are not done with their fight
» Saturday's protestors to Alamo planners: Come and take it
» Cenotaph process are most frustrating for those opposed to Alamo plan
Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron
Setting It Straight: Due to an editing error, the location for the Aug. 30 meeting was incorrect in the original version of this article.
Featured photo by V. Finster | San Antonio Heron