SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff remembers the Alamo, but he also remembers parts of the Alamo Plan he’d like to see changed.
Wolff, former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger and Phil Bakke, a former member of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Wednesday raising concerns about the $400 million plan to overhaul Alamo Plaza.
The trio mentioned the plan to permanently close off Alamo Street, having the plaza “fenced off” and the future of the Woolworth Building, which held one of seven San Antonio lunch counters that were voluntarily integrated in March 1960.
Their letter comes as the City Council discusses the future of the Alamo Plan now that the controversial relocation of the Cenotaph, a central part of the plan, has been blocked by the Texas Historical Commission.
“We wanted to get that over since the council is opening it up, and now they’re going to be reviewing it. And so we just wanted to get our views over to them,” Wolff said.
The current Alamo Plan, which the city council approved in October 2018, includes the City of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office, and the Alamo Trust as its partners. It involves renovating Alamo Plaza, closing down portions of several streets, and creating a museum and visitor center located around the Woolworth and Crockett buildings.
The trio writes that “the City Council went along with the state and allowed it to be fenced off and Alamo Street permanently closed,” and that there has “not been any action taken to protect the Woolworth Building where a scene of historic civil rights struggle took place.”
Wolff, Hardberger, and Bakke say bollards could be erected to keep traffic out and lowered to allow the continued use of the plaza for traditions like the Battle of Flowers parade, which passes in front of the Alamo.
Wolff and the others referenced an op-ed Wolff, Nirenberg and District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino wrote in July 2018, urging that the plaza remain a public space to help make their point.
Trevino, however, says he disagrees with what Wolff, Hardberger, and Bakke say in their letter. The councilman, who is also a member of the Management Committee for the Alamo Plan, says he made his edits in the July 2018 op-ed to more accurately align with what the project was doing and where it was going.
“I think we’ve accomplished the things that we talked about in that op-ed, which is we’ve got to be telling an inclusive story at the Alamo,” Trevino said.
Trevino says there have been two studies looking into the Woolworth Building’s significance, and its future in the plan has not yet been determined.
As for closing the street, Trevino says, “running the street over sacred burial grounds and such a historical site, it’s just -- we shouldn’t be doing this anywhere in the world and much less right here in the heart of our downtown in San Antonio. This is — it’s not respectful of the history.”
A 2018 presentation to the city council showed parades re-routed around the south and east edges of the site, along Crockett Street and Bonham.
Though Wolff and the others refer to the area being “fenced off” in their letter, Trevino says that “landscaping” would be used to direct the flow of traffic. Though there would be managed “access points” to help the museum control the site during its operating hours, Trevino says people would still be able to get through at any time of day.
“The short answer is the porousness and the access to the site is essentially the same as it is today,” Trevino said.
Nirenberg provided the following statement through a spokesman in response to KSAT’s request for comment about Wolff, Hardberger, and Bakke’s letter:
“The plaza will remain open 24 hours a day. While the last iteration of the lease agreement ensured public access and the continued recognition of Alamo Plaza as the center of civic life in San Antonio, as we move forward, that must be one of the central tenets.
“Alamo Street should not be closed unless there is a viable and funded plan for the museum that meets the vision for the project.
I have always supported the preservation of the Woolworth and Crocket buildings. And now that there is a study that shows it is possible, I hope that will be taken into account by the GLO as we move forward.”
The future of the Alamo Plan is uncertain at the moment. The Cenotaph’s relocation had been a central part of redesign plans for the plaza as well as the development of the museum.
The THC’s decision has also spurred board members of the Remember The Alamo Foundation, which is charged with fundraising for the museum’s construction, to resign.
The city now has to determine whether it will try to push ahead, despite the THC’s decision to keep the Cenotaph in place or alter its plans. City staff members have said that any path forward, though, will require changing the ground lease and management agreement that the city has with the General Land Office.
Read the letter in full below: