After three years of public input and revisions, the Alamo Master Plan goes before the San Antonio City Council Thursday.
There has been a long-running battle over how to renovate the grounds of the Alamo, Texas’ most recognizable landmark and one of its most visited tourist destinations.
Every year, about 1.5 million people come to learn about its history.
“I think for many Texans, and many Americans and many westerners, what it represents is a last stand in the defense of liberty.” said official Alamo historian Bruce Winders.
In 1836, the Alamo grounds were surrounded by the army of Mexican General Antonio Lopez De Santa Ana. The 200 or so Alamo defenders would be killed. The cry “remember the Alamo” would be shouted at the Battle of San Jacinto two months later, when Texas won independence from Mexico.
“What the battle of the Alamo and what Remember the Alamo sums up— not just for Texas but the world — is it becomes a rallying cry or a battle cry and those can be very important. They change history.” Winders said.
Along Alamo Plaza, there are state historical markers and, recently added, temporary painted markers that say “known burial grounds.” There are also markings for where the Alamo walls used to be. And then there are things that don’t fit the scene. Like across the street there’s a Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and Tomb Raider 3D.
Nearby there’s a shopping mall, a historic hotel, and souvenir shops. Cars and double-decker tour buses zoom down Alamo street alongside horse-drawn carriages. The city and the state want this picture to look a little different.
“We’re going to reveal more history at Alamo Plaza,” said District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino.
Trevino is chair of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, one of several groups created by the Texas General Land Office and city to draft the Alamo Master Plan.
“At the heart of this is to create a better understanding of what is out here.” Trevino said.
Major parts of the plan call for closing streets around Alamo Plaza and converting them into pedestrian walkways. The plan would alter the plaza to create more space for historical demonstrations and ceremonies, and create a museum. It would also restore the Alamo church and long barracks, and create formal points of entry to the plaza.
The plan has gone through several committees, been signed off by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and now awaits approval from the City Council.
“For the first time ever, we’re taking things (that) have just existed around here and putting it together in a plan,” Trevino said. “It’s never been done before.”
There have been previous attempts to redevelop the Alamo, either the city or the previous Alamo caretakers, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
“There were times — like in 1979 — when the daughters had a master plan they were working on. And then, if you go to the ‘80s — ‘87 for instance and ‘94 — the city worked on master plans that didn’t include the daughters,” said Bryan Preston, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Office.
The state owns the Alamo grounds and San Antonio owns Alamo Plaza, which is in front of the Alamo’s church. A lease agreement in the plan would allow the state to oversee both properties for up to 100 years. Preston said a combined footprint will allow for better storytelling beyond the 1836 battle.
“This is the first one that unites the city and the state and it’s the first that’s gotten us this far. So this is our once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right,” he said.
The 2018 plan has gone under multiple revisions after public opposition — a plan to put glass walls around the plaza was removed.
The most controversial aspect of the plan that remains is moving the historic cenotaph — a monument to the defenders of the Alamo — to another part of the plaza. It currently sits on what was the battleground.
“And it has the names of the defenders; it has the representation of Columbia; it has the representation of the spirit of sacrifice on it,” Winders said.
Opponents, like Brandon Burkhart of the group This is Texas Freedom Force, said at recent public meeting moving it would be a disgrace.
“The cenotaph needs to sit where the blood soaked the ground of the defenders,” he said. This latest plan is close to becoming a reality after three years of public input and revisions.
If City Council approves the plan Thursday, parts of the plan will then need approval from the Texas Historical Commission. If all approvals go forward, renovations are expected to be done in time for the Alamo’s 300th anniversary in 2024.
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules