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When Kate Rogers was hired in 2021 to lead the Alamo Trust, she encountered a “healthy level of skepticism” about whether redevelopment of the Alamo complex would actually come to fruition.
During the previous year, the project encountered controversy over moving the Alamo Cenotaph, multiple deep-pocketed donors to the project had dropped out, and San Antonio residents remained uncertain how the evolving site plans would actually look in the end.
But the project got its biggest boost to date on Sunday, when Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state’s $321.3 billion budget, which includes a $400 million allocation for the historic Alamo redevelopment.
“It’s a game changer,” Rogers told the San Antonio Report earlier this month.
Alamo Trust, the historic site’s nonprofit steward, will still need to raise significant funds for the redevelopment, but the budget allocation shows the state’s commitment to the project, she said.
“My hope is that, from a private donor perspective, once they see $400 million from the state, [they know] this Alamo redevelopment is actually going to happen,” Rogers said. “And that might make someone excited about wanting to be a part of it.”
The total estimated cost of the master plan — which includes street closures, plaza improvements, a new museum, artifact collection and education centers — is now $504 million, Rogers said.
That’s significantly more expensive than the $388 million projected in 2021, due to rising construction costs, she said.
“[Construction] prices are elevated right now, [and] prices on certain materials still remain quite high,” Rogers said. “Each time we go out for bid on one of the projects, then we start to get real costs.”
The project is on track for a grand opening on March 6, 2027 — one year after the 190th anniversary of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.
The overall redevelopment has received other local and state funding, including $38 million from the city’s 2017 bond and $25 million from Bexar County over five years for the museum.
The Alamo Trust has raised about $50 million in private donations so far and plans to raise $75 million more: another $50 million for redevelopment costs and $25 million to set up an endowment for continued operating expenses related to on-site preservation and educational opportunities.
“What we’re striving for is that, when all of this is said and done, we will be self-sustaining from an operational perspective,” Rogers said, with help from the endowment and various revenue streams across the site, including museum tickets, venue rentals and concessions.
Entrance to the plaza and Alamo church will be free, in addition to smaller exhibits and artwork in the museum lobby, she said.
While construction in the plaza continues, the embattled Alamo redevelopment is now in a period of political calm compared with recent years.
The Alamo plan’s many battles
The goal of the redevelopment is to preserve the Alamo’s historic structures, which were designated a World Heritage site in 2015, and enhance the experience of visitors by restoring the site’s “dignity and reverence,” according to the master plan.
Officials want to paint a full picture of the site’s history. Programming and interpretations will be grounded on the 1836 Battle of the Alamo but will also include the stories of indigenous peoples, the history of San Antonio’s civil rights movement and more.
The Alamo is one of the top destinations in Texas, receiving an estimated 2.5 million visitors every year, but the average time spent on site is still measured in minutes.
“The average length of stay for the Alamo today is somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. It’s getting longer as we add new things,” Rogers said. “That doesn’t include the new collections center or if you spend more time at the [mission] gate. … When this is all said and done, you can see how someone could easily spend an entire day here.”
And those visitors include students.
Education at the Alamo can go beyond site tours and history lessons, she said. “Folks, on its surface, may not think of the Alamo as a place to teach science and technology and mathematics and even art. But actually, we can do robust programming with our archaeologist [and] with our conservator.”
The Alamo master plan — a partnership among the city of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office, and the trust — has been on the drawing board since 2014. It’s seen a number of tumultuous fits and starts, raucous public meetings and an infamously scrapped proposal for glass walls. The latest plan, which notably kept the 20th-century Cenotaph in its place in front of the Alamo, was approved by the City Council in 2021.
Three historic buildings near Alamo Plaza, bought by the state in 2015, will become the new museum (whether to demolish or renovate the structures was another controversy), and after several years of negotiations, some of the noisiest, most popular tourist attractions in the plaza closed last year.
But the mission gate and lunette, a walled structure interpreting what the plaza entry would have looked like in 1835-36, received relatively quick approval by a local design commission late last year. Residents and tourists alike seem to enjoy the partial roadway closure of Alamo Plaza from Houston to Crockett streets, making it a purely pedestrian plaza — with the exception of Fiesta parades.
“A big part of this is restoring a sense of reverence, a sense of respect,” Rogers said, and the street closure lets the plaza “calm down a little bit so people can spend their time and linger a little longer.”
But there remains yet another battle.
In May, the city of San Antonio filed a lawsuit in probate court to seize through eminent domain Moses Rose’s Hideout, a bar on Houston Street next to one of the historic buildings slated to become the new museum. Alamo Trust said the bar property is needed to develop the new museum.
The condemnation petition, filed on behalf of GLO, follows years of failed negotiations with bar owner Vince Cantu over a sales price for the property. It’s unclear how much Cantu will receive, Rogers said, but it would be paid for by the state.
Rogers said she does not expect that process — whether resolved through a settlement or probate court — to interfere with the Alamo master plan’s timeline.
“While we’re disappointed that we weren’t able to reach a resolution … we remain optimistic,” she said.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said the relative physical and political calm surrounding the Alamo now can be credited to leaders who were dedicated to seeing the project through. Along with Rogers’ hiring, the Alamo’s boards have added new members over the past several years, including Peter Holt, CEO of Holt CAT and chair of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, and former Texas Secretary of State and local businessperson Hope Andrade.
Dawn Buckingham, a former Republican state senator, replaced Republican George P. Bush as land commissioner last year.
Securing funding from the Legislature was a top priority for Buckingham during the legislative session, GLO spokesperson Kimberly Hubbard said in a statement.
“Safeguarding this historical landmark is critically important to ensure Texas’ rich history is properly honored, as well as shared with our schoolchildren and the millions of people who visit every year,” Hubbard said.
Several elected officials supported the effort, Rogers said, but Buckingham, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston — who chairs the Senate Finance Committee — got the Alamo funding to the finish line.
“Even before the new commissioner came in, we were on a good path,” Houston said, “because Mayor [Ron] Nirenberg saw the challenges, [and] he did a reset on the plan. … Now I’m not spending my time working on personalities and issues within the agencies. We’re just focused on the project.”
But in many ways, the strife earlier in the process made the plan better, and the community was able to feel heard, said Houston, who alongside state and Alamo Trust representatives oversees the master plan’s implementation and works with the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee.
“We heard you don’t want the glass walls, we heard you want the parades to continue going through this site,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t change things, because now we have $400 million that the lieutenant governor and others were successful in getting for the project.”
While the city’s funding is directed toward city-owned street improvements, none of the remaining projects in the plaza can be completed without collaboration between state and local agencies, Houston said.
“This can’t be done in silos,” she said. “The street closure and the Plaza de Valero, that needs to be done in a way that is seamless — and you don’t think of two separate spaces when you’re walking out of the actual battle footprint and mission footprint into the plaza. And so we’re looking at this as one project.”
Alamo Trust will soon move its offices out of the Crockett Building, slated to become part of the museum, for preliminary archaeology and renovation work to begin. The visitor center and museum will likely be the last project completed.
Meanwhile, work will continue on a new education center, improvements to the Paseo that connects the plaza to the River Walk, and the Plaza de Valero, which will close Alamo Plaza from Commerce to Houston streets and extend the plaza toward Hemisfair.
Approvals for the project’s work and design will be required at various levels, including the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission and the Texas Historical Commission. Despite everything, Houston remains optimistic that the project will celebrate its grand opening on schedule, saying, “It’s a totally different vibe than it was several years ago.”
Disclosure: Texas General Land Office, Texas Historical Commission, Texas Secretary of State and Valero have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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