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Stay bold on plan to reimagine the Alamo

August 4, 2018

Let’s be clear about the evolving plan to reimagine the Alamo.

This is a pivotal moment to bring proper reverence to the cradle of Texas’ independence. This is an opportunity to create a world-class museum that tells not just the full story of the 1836 battle, but the layers and layers of history at the site. This is a rare chance to redefine how Texas and the world view the Alamo. This is our time to breathe life into a sacred site that has literally been paved over by years of neglect and is inexplicably overshadowed by carnival-like businesses.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Don’t squander this opportunity. Don’t forsake a bold vision to reimagine the Alamo for a tepid half-step that effectively retains the status quo.

Recognize the site is underwhelming. A place where buses and cars roll over the Alamo’s footprint. Visitors look at the Alamo, and then they look at Tomb Rider 3D and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure directly across the street, and they think, “Is that it?” A true reimagining should leave visitors to the site steeped in awe, yearning for more time and planning a return trip.

Honor the Alamo. And realize that — in that place in the Texas heart — the site, including the plaza, belongs to all Texans.

Debate over rails that appear in design renderings misses these points entirely.

Yes, the most recent plan put forth by the city of San Antonio, General Land Office and nonprofit Alamo Endowment includes some rails and landscaping in the renderings. The public discussion about these design features has been hyperbolic to the point that Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and District 7 City Councilman Roberto Treviño wrote an op-ed for this paper making it clear they are against any barriers around Alamo Plaza. The underlying concern being public access to the plaza and ensuring it remains a civic space.

Whether the final plan includes rails — again, it is evolving — is in many ways beside the point. There has never been any plan or intention to cut off access to Alamo Plaza or undermine civic space.

None.

Landscaping and rails in plaza renderings were simply proposed design techniques to better manage the flow of people in and out of the site during daytime hours when the Alamo, and presumably that world-class museum, are open to the public.

The plaza would still be open to the public, day and night. Where people enter that space would be managed. That is, people would be guided through entrances. That’s markedly different than barriers that cut off access.

But even a reimagined plaza without rails and landscaping would still have to be managed. Is it appropriate to have street preachers yelling at visitors who are trying to focus on the Alamo? Is the cradle of Texas’ independence the right venue to promote a boxing match?

We think not. The space will have to be somehow controlled to create an environment of reverence.

What about the public’s right to assemble at the Alamo? What about the right to protest and preach? This editorial board is a staunch supporter of free speech and civic engagement, and if those rights were in any way threatened by this plan, we would speak loudly against it. But the plan calls for a civic space for protests and street preachers that lies just outside of the Alamo’s grounds during business hours. No one is losing his or her voice.

These are the kinds of changes that must happen — including moving the Cenotaph and closing Alamo Street to traffic — to make a bold vision a reality.

Railing or not, the space will need to be managed. Don’t sacrifice a bold vision for more of the same.

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