San Antonio City Council discusses uncertain future of Alamo Plan

D9 Councilman John Courage suggests shakeup of city leadership in plan, citing a lack of a "Plan B”

Seven weeks after the Texas Historical Commission blocked plans to move the cenotaph in Alamo Plaza a few hundred feet, the San Antonio City Council discussed the consequences to the $400 million Alamo Master Plan.

SAN ANTONIO – With the Cenotaph relocation apparently off the table, San Antonio City Council members discussed options forward for the $400 million Alamo Plan.

Thursday’s special council meeting was the first in-depth discussion council members have had about the plan since the Texas Historical Commission denied the city’s permit to relocate the Cenotaph a few hundred feet south of where it currently sits in Alamo Plaza. With the monument’s relocation a “crucial” part of the overall plan, city staff members say plans or timelines need to be changed.

“We’re going to have to redo redesign because that Cenotaph is not moving,” City Manager Erik Walsh told council members.

In its entirety, the Alamo Plan includes repairs to original structures, a redesign of the plaza and a museum. However, current plans for the plaza and museum both rely on the Cenotaph’s relocation to the southern edge of the plaza.

The Phase 1 redesign of the plaza assumes the relocated Cenotaph would serve as the focal point, said Assistant City Manager Lori Houston. What would have been the resulting open space around the monument’s current location, meanwhile, was supposed to serve as part of the museum’s design and provide space for outdoor programming, Houston said.

The THC’s decision has already spurred board members of the Remember The Alamo Foundation, which is charged with fundraising for the museum’s construction, to resign.

Houston seemed to leave the option on the table of trying to implement the original plan council had approved, which includes the Cenotaph’s relocation. However, she noted timelines would need to be altered.

District 9 Councilman John Courage, who had voted against moving forward with the Alamo Plan when it came up in front of council in October 2018, suggested “fresh eyes and fresh voices” were needed for the people overseeing the city’s participation in the plan “and maybe from other than the city’s participation.”

“I think we need to change our city council and our city staff leadership on the management committee, executive committee within the Alamo Advisory Group. And I think that we need to go ahead and reconfigure the Alamo Citizen’s Advisory Group,” Courage said.

Courage said the chief reason in urging for such a shakeup was the lack of any alternate plan. The Cenotaph’s proposed relocation has long been a hot-button issue within the Alamo Plan -- the source of repeated comments at city council meetings and demonstrations at the site.

“I think I knew a year ago it was going to be hard to move (the) Cenotaph,” Courage said. “And I think all of us recognized six months ago that it simply was likely not to occur. And to not have sat down and come up with a Plan B, I think it shows that there’s too much tunnel vision on where this project has been going and is going.”

District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino and City Manager Erik Walsh are the city’s two members on the plan’s six-member management committee. Trevino, who has repeatedly spoken about showing a wider history of the site than just the 1836 battle, has attracted much of the anger from the plan’s opponents.

He blamed “certain elected officials” for turning the Cenotaph “into a lightning rod used to galvanize their political base.”

Though Trevino didn’t mention him by name, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been a vocal opponent of the current Alamo Plan and spoke against moving the Cenotaph at the THC hearing.

“Sadly, those efforts were successful in turning a project, emphasizing telling the evidence-based and whole story of the Alamo to one which was based upon political ideology and mythology,” Trevino said.

Trevino said the council must “summon the courage to continue to fight for the soul of this project.”

Houston said all the parties in the plan are still committed to the plan’s Vision and Guiding Principles. Any path forward, though, would require changing the ground lease and management agreement that the city has with the General Land Office.

A mutually agreed “wind-down,” or cancellation, of the agreement is also an option.

Following the nearly two-hour public discussion, council members spent close to another hour in a closed executive session but took no official action.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.