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City And State Officials Weigh The Costs Of Restoring The Alamo

Today marks the 181st anniversary of the day the Alamo fell to Santa Anna and his Mexican Army. The deaths of more than 180 Texians, as they were known, fighting for independence, has led the Alamo to be celebrated as a shrine. Now the City of San Antonio and the Texas General Land office want to restore the mission complex so it looks more like it did 300 years ago.  But that takes money.

If the “Reimaginethe Alamo” project were complete tomorrow, Alamo Street would be pedestrian only. It would be lower than it is now, so the Alamo chapel would stand tall, like it did 181 years ago. Instead of only spending 15 minutes there like most people do today, visitors might spend a whole day, taking in a new museum, visitor’s center, and expanded historic grounds.

A graphic illustrating proposed changes to the Alamo site.

Credit Texas General Land Office
Texas General Land Office
A close-up showing some damage that needs to be repaired on the exterior of the Alamo.

Roberto Trevino is the councilman for District 1, which includes the Alamo. He’s chair of the Alamo Management committee which is working to restore the site. Trevino says that includes repairing the stone walls on the chapel which are decaying from wear because of time and water damage.   

"The surface is slowly crumbling. There’s pieces that are slowly chipping away or experiencing some fatigue or issues with how it’s attached to the building," he says.

Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Councilman Roberto Trevino

Trevino says not protecting the Alamo would be a loss of historic value, and could affect tourism, too. He points out that tourism is one of the biggest revenue sources for the city of San Antonio.
"And the Alamo is the biggest tourist attraction in the state of Texas. Protecting that investment is important," he says.

The Alamo Master Plan has a total price tag of about $300 million.  Planners hope to raise that from three places:  They’ve asked state lawmakers for $75 million in the next two-year budget;  The city has already committed $17 million and is asking San Antonio voters to approved another $21 million in the May bond election. Private donors would contribute the rest.

Diego Bernal is a state representative from San Antonio’s District 123. He says the Alamo is to be revered just like the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg, or the 9-11 Memorial.

"A lot of these things deserve a tremendous amount of respect and what I want people to understand is that if you visit the Alamo, and you compare it to those places, I think it’s fair to say that the Alamo has been treated with a fair amount of disrespect. It’s treated like an attraction and not like a place of history and reverence, and so we’re trying to correct that over a long period of time," he says.

Bernal is in favor of restoring the Alamo, but he says he’s not in favor of the state funding $75 million, though he hasn’t said how much the state should spend.  Bernal, has his own bill. He says the Alamo should have its own fund so the dollars aren’t intermingled with others.

Gene Powell is chairman of Remember the Alamo, a group trying to raise private foundation support for the project. Powell declined to be recorded, but says he knows the state has limited money.
He says that if the Alamo doesn’t receive dollars requested from the state or city, planners will adjust their budget and possibly phase in construction over time.
On this sunny morning, Reginald Sidney is standing in the shade on the Alamo grounds. He’s from Houston and has been here a couple times. He says he likes the Alamo though says it isn’t as big as he expected.

Credit Louisa Jonas / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Reginald Sidney

"It’s a nice sacred historic site. Being able to see some the relics still standing that were here when the actual Alamo battle went down," Sidney says.
Sharon Ideus is from Carthage, Illinois. She’s traveled to San Antonio several times and visits the Alamo because of its history. Still, she says $300 million to restore this historic site is a lot of money.

"I think it would feed a lot of people. But it’s good to restore things too, but there’s a lot of hungry people.
And that’s the kind of discussion state legislators may have as they consider whether paying for the Alamo Master Plan is the best use of taxpayer money," Ideus says. 
The Alamo Master Plan should be completed in May. About 1.5 million people from across the country visit the Alamo each year. 

Louisa Jonas is an independent public radio producer, environmental writer, and radio production teacher based in Baltimore. She is thrilled to have been a PRX STEM Story Project recipient for which she produced a piece about periodical cicadas. Her work includes documentaries about spawning horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds aired on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered. Louisa previously worked as the podcast producer at WYPR 88.1FM in Baltimore. There she created and produced two documentary podcast series: Natural Maryland and Ascending: Baltimore School for the Arts. The Nature Conservancy selected her documentaries for their podcast Nature Stories. She has also produced for the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations Podcast. Louisa is editor of the book Backyard Carolina: Two Decades of Public Radio Commentary. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her training also includes journalism fellowships from the Science Literacy Project and the Knight Digital Media Center, both in Berkeley, CA. Most recently she received a journalism fellowship through Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she traveled to Toolik Field Station in Arctic Alaska to study climate change. In addition to her work as an independent producer, she teaches radio production classes at Howard Community College to a great group of budding journalists. She has worked as an environmental educator and canoe instructor but has yet to convince a great blue heron to squawk for her microphone…she remains undeterred.