Business leaders, others weigh new multimillion-dollar Alamo area proposal

Business leaders, conservationists and tourists say they could get behind a different, revitalized Alamo experience, if it’s done right. Davis Phillips is one such cautious optimist.

“It can be a game changer for San Antonio,” said Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment, which owns and operates businesses across the street from the Alamo. “But if it’s done the wrong way, it will be the biggest swing and a miss in the history of the city.”

“If the end result is a big history lesson, and we have eliminated all of the family fun elements from downtown, a destination that’s all about family fun, that’s a loss,” he said.

After decades of downtown development carried on just yards from the Alamo, an emphasis on historical preservation and an improved “overall visitor experience” will have to account for several factors.

The proposed $200 million to $300 million Alamo master plan, presented publicly for the first time Wednesday, seeks to improve the area by cutting off traffic along Alamo Street and building a new museum and visitor center along with an urban park and a dedicated single entrance point to the destination.

That means Phillips would see his business ventures, which include Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, the Guinness World Records Museum and Tomb Rider, relocated from their current homes just steps away from the Alamo to a new “entertainment district,” according to the newly released Alamo Master Plan.

The entertainment area location hasn’t been finalized, but Becky Dinnin, executive director of the Alamo Endowment, said it would be “in close proximity to the Alamo.”

Phillips, along with 15 other business owners, met with the planning team Thursday. He appreciates the team’s “business focus” and thinks that as long as plans account for a well-located entertainment district, it could be a definite improvement.

“At least we’re having the right discussions,” Phillips said. “Nobody that I know of wants the Alamo experience to stay the way it is,” where visitors don’t have a “sense of place” nor understand the history as they are surrounded by modern city amenities.

Currently, most Alamo visitors spend about eight minutes inside the shrine itself, master plan spokeswoman Kelli Epp said via email. “This doesn’t even take into account the thousands who simply walk by without coming in.”

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, dozens of tourists walked by the plaza, many stopping to snap a picture of the Alamo or the Christmas tree in the plaza. Kelly Deville positioned her smartphone just right to capture co-worker Ty Jones standing next to the 55-foot tree. They were in town for a business trip from Louisiana along with colleague Elsie Taylor. While they liked the idea of pedestrian-only access to the Alamo, they also liked the ability to pop into nearby shops.

“People love to see this, especially during the holidays,” Deville said.

After Deville and company left the plaza to go tour the site, a red double-decker tour bus drove by, followed by a FedEx delivery truck. A young couple left the plaza, jaywalked across the street, then disappeared down the steps to the River Walk.

Phillips liked the master plan’s proposed technology upgrades, including holograms to project timelines and historical images. Vincent Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society, said this type of technology can help people interpret historical sites.

“You can give people the visual and physical sense without having to change buildings,” he said. He was pleased that the master plan would keep facades of two historic buildings, the Woolworth and Crockett, for the new visitor center, while making upgrades inside.

The master plan should be finalized by the spring, with construction mostly finished by 2024, Epp said. Until then, project leaders want to get input from the community on proposed changes. People may offer feedback through the master plan website, ReimagineTheAlamo.org, or via email to info@reimaginethealamo.org.

“This is a really important site, in the center of the city,” Michael said.“The next six months will be crucial as details come out.”

Michael recalled one comment he heard that particularly stood out: These changes at the Alamo will be for the next 300 years.

Source: San Antonio Express-News