Slow pace of plan to revitalize Alamo frustrates downtown business owners

SAN ANTONIO – The recent decision to leave the Cenotaph in its current location may delay the multi-year Alamo revitalization project. The lack of progress on another part of the project – the proposed entertainment district – may be frustrating area business leaders even more. “I feel like downtown San […]

SAN ANTONIO – The recent decision to leave the Cenotaph in its current location may delay the multi-year Alamo revitalization project. The lack of progress on another part of the project – the proposed entertainment district – may be frustrating area business leaders even more.

“I feel like downtown San Antonio has looked like a war zone since july of 2019,” says Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment. “You cannot talk to a single business owner – or property owner downtown – who is pleased with how this plan has been handled. “

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a building

© Provided by WOAI San Antonio

The latest delay came last week when the Texas Historical Commission voted 12-2 to deny the move of the Cenotaph. Local leaders had proposed moving the structure about 500 feet south to an area near the front of the Menger Hotel.

“It’s going to definitely set us back, quite a bit,” City Councilman Roberto Trevino said last week, suggesting politics were at play in the decision. “I’m disappointed for the sake of history.”

Downtowners are getting used to delays to the $450 million plan.

“The downtown area has struggled with this project for at least seven years or so,” says Phillips, whose company runs the Tomb Rider, Ripley’s and Guinness attractions across from the Alamo. 

A museum is planned for the block where his businesses are located, but he has yet to see either a museum plan or a site for his company to relocate.

“We need to focus on the Alamo Redevelopment Plan and we damn sure need to focus on where are we going to put these businesses and their 460 employees,” Phillips says. “I’ve been on the (Alamo Citizens Advisory) Committee since May of 2014. I’m tired of this. I have 230 employees. Between them and their famlies, that’s 800-900 people. The disrespect is infuriating.”

a sign on the side of a building

© Provided by WOAI San Antonio

He still backs the overall project, but wants it to be done right.

“I’m fed up. I’m tired, but we’re still supporters,” he says.

Phillips has had a front row seat at what is – and isn’t happening with the plan. He was astonished to see some of the fencing around the Cenotaph removed on Friday, only to be replaced on Saturday.

“The same exact barriers got put back in teh same exact place,” he says. “This is the kind of nonsense that make people get frustrated with government.”

Phillips also wonders why pedestrian traffic flow has been cut off around the Alamo due to what he says is unneeded fencing on the south side of the plaza. Now that the Cenotaph is staying in place, he says that fencing should be removed immediately.

“There’s nothing accomplished,” he says. “The fencing should come down now.”

a man wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a building

© Provided by WOAI San Antonio

Frustration is apparent for anyone who has been involved with what has become a politicial tug of war at both the local and state levels.

“I’d like to know how much money has been spent so far, and what do we have to show for it,” Phillip says.

The Alamo Trust was unable to provide that information today.

The next meeting of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee is Wednesday.

Follow Jim Lefko on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

When the THC rejected the plan to move the Cenotaph last week, we contacted Davis Phillips for his reaction. This is the statement he issued:

Our family has been involved in the Texas travel and tourism industry since 1964. My father and grandfather helped start the first attraction in Alamo Plaza in Feb 1987. Today, our family operates many of the downtown attractions and has over 200 employees. For more than three decades, we have been blessed to entertain millions of visitors and locals alike. Today, we face an uncertain future because of the Alamo plan and all of the uncertainty surrounding it. However, we are only one of many businesses that are affected by the plan. Altogether, there are close to 500 local citizens whose jobs are at risk from the impact of the pending changes, depending on how the project proceeds.

I am a lifelong Texan. I have worked in the Texas travel and tourism industry since I was 11 years old. My wife and I live in San Antonio, own a home here, and have raised one son that currently serves in the Air Force while our other son is in a local public high school. We are as invested in San Antonio as one can be. I also served on the Alamo Citizen’s Advisory Committee since its inception in May 2014. People may find it surprising that I was on that group and worked to help craft a plan that would create a much-improved experience for our beloved Alamo. I supported the project as a member of the committee because I care about Texas, our history, the city of San Antonio, my industry, our family business, and all of our employees. I have also been repeatedly assured by city and state leaders that our concerns for our businesses would be addressed.

Another critical fact is that there were and still are 2 parts to the overall Alamo plan:

1.Alamo Redevelopment

2.The creation of a nearby entertainment district (ED)

That second part is a critical component of the equation. Had the ED been focused on first, it would have cleared the deck for the Alamo plan to proceed on schedule. The ED would allow us to blend a world class history experience with retail, dining, and family fun into one powerful economic mix. Unfortunately, there has been zero progress made on the ED concept. Most of the focus and attention was placed first on the Alamo redevelopment, which, in my opinion, was an early strategic mistake. If the idea is to place the world class Alamo visitor museum in the same exact location where our family business is located – well before our leases end – then it seems logical to start there.

I have been fairly silent over the last year but frustrated by:

1.The poor communication from the state in terms of construction dates/impact

2.The overall lack of progress for the project – most every stated deadline has been missed.

3.Consistently missing deadlines is a sign that a project is off track. Also, missed deadlines generally lead to a project going over budget. One example of both was the purchase of temporary bollards that did not work, and the state had to buy different ones to finish that portion of the project.

4.Recently, the project has been beset with leadership vacancies – first the chair of the Alamo Trust resigned and now the project lead leaves at the end of September. No forward momentum there.

5.On Tuesday 9-22-20 the project fell flat on its face during its big moment in front of the Texas Historic Commission. The THC decided 2-12 against moving the Cenotaph – a key foundational element of the entire project. I am not sure how you lose a vote by 2-12 and not know that going into the vote.

6.And where was George P. Bush? He did not show his face or speak on behalf of the Alamo project – make no mistake, this is his project. He owns it.

7.The 2021 legislative session is fast approaching and state money is not readily available for what is needed for the Alamo project. There is probably not even enough state money for the basic needs of the state for 2021-2022. Lack of adequate funding will also affect the project success and a timely completion.

8.They continue to provide public dates for completion that are well within our businesses lease terms, yet there are zero discussions occurring about how we move forward together. Imagine how that makes our team and their families feel?

9.Any business needs some degree of certainty to successfully function. This applies even more so for a small family business. We should not have to fight against a supposed “business friendly” state government for the opportunity to leave our family business to the next generation.

Talk about David vs. Goliath..

Other instances that have caused concerns:

Fences abruptly appeared in July 2019 with no specific notice or understanding as to the negative impact that they would have on the surrounding businesses or the visitor experience. It was suddenly decided they needed temporary bollards and they had to be installed in the busiest time of the year for tourism. When we approached the state about the issues the timing of this caused, they would not allow effective directional signage and seemed rather unconcerned with the negative impact on the businesses and visitors.

More fencing was added in February 2020 – all to prepare for the move of the Cenotaph even though they had yet to receive the approval to move the Cenotaph.

This caused more harm to surrounding businesses and confusion for our visitors.

In March, the city shut down due to Covid-19, but construction was deemed essential. Somehow April, May, June, July, August, and most of September have passed – the fences are still up, yet very little work was done, and now the Cenotaph will not be moving.

So, Alamo Plaza has looked like a war zone for well over 15 months now and the most visible accomplishments are:

1.The Gazebo was removed

2.The fountain close to the Crockett hotel (not on the plaza) was removed

3. And remember those temporary bollards that were purchased incorrectly before they were purchased correctly? They were eventually installed but will be removed when/if the project is ever completed.

If the visitors to San Antonio were truly of any concern, things like this would not occur in the busiest month of the year. I am curious to know how many of our tax dollars were spent on these small accomplishments. Was it worth it?

One has to question if the overall project can be completed effectively, on time, on budget, and in a way that does not destroy all the surrounding downtown businesses during the process?

At the end of the day this is supposed to be a positive thing for Texas, for San Antonio and for the tourism industry, yet none of the powers that be understand or are actually focused on the the end user – THE VISITOR.

Yet, what we have right now is a project that is, at best, stuck in neutral, facing additional delays and funding challenges while many surrounding businesses are struggling to survive the double whammy of Covid-19 and the poorly executed plaza construction fencing (with very little construction work actually occurring).

Given the fact that the Cenotaph will not be moved, the stalled status of the project, and the economic hit we all have taken due to the pandemic, I am asking that the city and the state do 2 things:

1.For the short term: Take down the walls that have literally enclosed the entire plaza – most were there to prep the site for the Cenotaph move. We only need to keep the ones needed for the Cenotaph restoration.

2.For the long term: Remember there are two part to this plan and the city and the state must focus on both parts at the same time. We must re-engage on the discussion of the entertainment district concept/future status of the impacted businesses because it is a critical pathway to success for this important project. The business owners, their employees, and their families deserve the respect and focus of our leaders and we expect them to live up to their promises.

I understand and agree with the desire for an improved Alamo experience – I want that too. Can we not create an incredible Alamo experience and ensure that we don’t ruin all of the surrounding small businesses?

Ask yourself how you would feel if it was YOUR job or YOUR company on the line?

Would you not want a better approach?

We all deserve better.

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