City review panel approves plan for Plaza de Valero at the Alamo
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City review panel approves plan for Plaza de Valero at the Alamo

Apr 18, 2023

The Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday approved plans submitted by the Alamo Trust to redevelop Plaza de Valero.

The goal is to develop an accessible, community-focused space that balances historic and civic features in keeping with the Alamo Master Plan, according to documents submitted to the Office of Historic Preservation.

The $400 million redevelopment is a result of a partnership between the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and the trust, and has been in one planning stage or another since 2014.

Now, with a certificate of appropriateness from the commission, the partnership is prepared to launch phase 2B of the redevelopment project.

Plans call for modifying the existing paving and landscaping on the site surrounding the Alamo and installing new paving, relocating trees and planting new ones, installing new plant beds and building a small pavilion.

Other goals of the project include creating a strong sense of entry into the Alamo District through historic signage and art, providing event space, maintaining a clear path for parades and emergency vehicles, and installing group seating, plantings and visibility to entrances.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio objected to the plans due to various concerns, said Kathy Krnavek, first vice president of the nonprofit preservation group.

"Visually, with the proposed extensive landscaping and new construction, visitors arriving in Alamo Plaza from the south will not be able to see the Alamo chapel, negating their sense of arrival," she said.

"Additionally, the introduction of numerous structures on Alamo Plaza, including the proposed modern canopy pavilion, along with the recent construction of the Southwest rampart, the south gate and lunette, in our view, detracts from the goal of creating a sense of reverence at the historic site."

The commission approved phase 1 improvements to the plaza in Dec. 2019, work that included improvements to Bonham and East Crockett streets, landscaping within Alamo Plaza and repairs to the Cenotaph.

Phase 2 got underway following the commission's OK last fall to construct the permanent mission gate and temporary lunette interpretations. That project is set to be completed this week, a spokeswoman for Alamo Trust said.

Next up are plans that will create a plaza that is universally accessible, a goal that will require existing street elevations to be raised.

Also proposed is an open-air pavilion to be located between the mission gate and lunette. The pavilion, built of steel columns, wood soffits and aluminum roofing, will feature a raised deck to protect the root of existing trees.

Commissioners James Cervantes and Gabriel Velasquez echoed the concerns of the Conservation Society, with Cervantes asking the applicant, "What methodology did you use when factoring the reverence that should be given to the site at the Alamo?"

Natalie Hugentobler, a Gensler architect working on the project with OJB landscape architect Allison Harvey, said Plaza de Valero, which is situated south of the Alamo, is meant to be a gift back to the community.

"This is really a civic-oriented site and somewhat separate from the Alamo Plaza itself, which is not only part of the historic fort and mission, but is the place of highest reverence in the Alamo plan," she said. "So we want to preserve the identity and the sanctity of that space, and then have the rest of the district support and become more of a bridge between the rest of the central business district and the reverent zone."

Commissioners acknowledged that the plans have progressed well since the first designs were fielded. "To me, it's a great evolution from where it was," Velasquez said. But, "I don't see that the project is ready for a decision that is affirmative to the request."

Other commissioners felt the designs showed the appropriate respect for the Alamo, given Plaza de Valero's location relative to the mission.

"I think that [the special collections building], and some of the other things that are being presented holistically as part of this plan, actually do pay a lot of reverence and show that the design team and Alamo Trust have, in fact, put a lot of thought into this," Commissioner John Baker said.

Commissioner Anne-Marie Grube also said the plan is suited to the space. "I think this is exactly what's needed in many of these big plazas [in other cities] … actually a place where we can sit and enjoy it," she said. "I think the Alamo Plaza right now is intended for that but it's not comfortable."

"It really does go to the fact that this is this very large space," said Commissioner Monica Savino. "Nestled in this urban setting, it's very complicated, but it's also very complex, historically."

City staff recommended approval for the plans with some stipulations.

The design team is required to submit final materials and finish specifications for the pavilion and pavilion steps.

All site furnishings, including tables and chairs, must be made of wood or metal, and signage elements have to be developed in line with the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee's vision and guiding principles for the Alamo Plan.

The project also must comply with all federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations regarding archaeology, according to the staff notes.

Commissioners voted 7-2 to give conceptual approval to the project.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report. More by Shari Biediger