AP NEWS

Remembering the Alamo means remembering those that boosted plaza

March 21, 2019

San Antonio held its annual observance of the Battle of the Alamo this month, a solemn tribute to the outnumbered defenders who gave their lives for Texas independence. This year’s ceremonies were the first to take place since the city of San Antonio and the Texas General Land Office entered into a lease agreement that took effect Jan. 1, along with an associated master plan to close streets to public traffic, restrict pedestrian access and displace longtime local businesses.

Decades before the state took an interest in making Alamo Plaza a tourist destination, San Antonio entrepreneurs invested their time and money to create a vibrant mix of stores and attractions that extended what was often a brief visit to the Alamo into a daylong experience, with its attendant economic benefits for our city. These local businesses added a dose of fun to a serious and somber Texas history lesson, making a trip to the Alamo both educational and entertaining for families.

My company owns and operates three businesses on Alamo Plaza — Guinness World Record Museum, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and Tomb Rider 3D. Over the course of Spring Break, thousands visited these attractions. The Alamo and nearby businesses are at the heart of San Antonio’s tourism industry, which, according to Visit San Antonio, now exceeds $15 billion annually in economic impact.

Our three venues are part of a larger network of 18 businesses in and around Alamo Plaza. Together, we employ over 465 San Antonio residents and report $6 million in annual payroll. We generate more than $3.6 million in city, county and state taxes, and nearly $30 million in gross annual revenue. More people pay to visit these attractions and shops than visit the Alamo free each year.

When Bexar County and the city of San Antonio worked to earn a World Heritage Site designation for the Alamo and other missions, we supported those efforts because it was good for the Alamo and for the community. And when the city and the state brought forward a master plan to re-envision Alamo Plaza and the Alamo experience, for the same reasons we did not object — even though that vision involved displacing many of the local businesses that have sustained Alamo Plaza for so long.

As good corporate citizens, that was the right thing to do. But there were also explicit discussions during the planning process about making sure that affected businesses didn’t simply go away. In fact, because many of these businesses have long-term leases that run to the end of the next decade, the Alamo plan can’t move forward in a timely fashion without a resolution of this issue.

City officials have done their part to communicate with local businesses. But somewhere between the city of San Antonio and the General Land Office in Austin, there is a breakdown of communication — and a lack of action.

The Alamo and the proposed Alamo master plan arouse the passion of Texans, as they should. One Texas lawmaker has gone so far as to introduce a measure that would prevent the state from moving the Cenotaph as part of that plan.

The public and elected officials ought to have just as much concern for private enterprise and private businesses that invested millions of dollars in Alamo Plaza long before there was a plan to invest public funds. Remembering the Alamo also means remembering the surrounding private interests that have supported the historic mission and the city’s tourism industry.

Davis Phillips is president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc., which operates tourist attractions in two Alamo Plaza buildings now owned by the state of Texas.