The year 2020 is another 22.5 million visitors to the Alamo away…

But with much of the “visioning” aimed at reinvigorating downtown, it would be a shame not to take on a challenge that has bedeviled local visionaries for decades:  Re-thinking Alamo Plaza.

Specifically, the tacky atmosphere that prevails across from our city’s most famous landmark cries out for another look.

In the January 7 edition of the Express-News, Scott Stroud urges city leaders not to forget Alamo Plaza in its visionary focus on downtown.

He continues:

But the carnival atmosphere poses peculiar challenges.  These are private properties and successful businesses, and it will take a lot of creativity — and maybe a lot of money — to alter the feel of the area.

Further, there are aspects of the current atmosphere that have value.

“There’s something nice about all the animation and activity, and the fact that people are there,” said Xavier Gonzalez, former HDRC chairman and the design director at RVK Architects.  “But once you think about it, you begin to say this is kind of cheap, and not really its highest and best use as far as history is concerned.”

DiGiovanni thinks re-zoning and other changes could be put in motion gradually, partly by involving property owners and the citizens of San Antonio.  He said a master-planning process aimed at “restoring the reverence” of the plaza could lead to a grander vision with broad public support.

Imagine if the plaza’s carnival atmosphere gave way to sidewalk cafes and art galleries, with apartments looking out on the Alamo from above. Imagine also a day when every first-time visitor to San Antonio wouldn’t gaze up at the iconic wall, then turn around and go, “Ugh.”

Start now, and maybe in a few years you’d have something — by, say, 2020?

While the vision Stroud lays out is great, there are major improvements that could be made at virtually no expense today. 

Just because buildings contain junk does not mean they have to appear junky (Have I written these exact words before?).  If the city merely enforced the ordinances governing the Alamo Plaza Historic District currently on the books, all of the tacky illegal signs cluttering the plaza (see examples) would vanish, including the sandwich boards the Daughters of the Republic of Texas place in front of the Alamo itself.

The city needs to act today.  Inaction until 2020 means another 22.5 million visitors to the Alamo will emerge from the Alamo and say “‘Ugh!'”

March 5, 2011, Update:  Scott Stroud recommends keeping “rethinking Alamo Plaza” simple in his Express-News column:

A more dignified plaza doesn’t have to involve removing buildings across from the mission. They’re historic in their own right. But we do have to dial down their garishness.

And David Phillips, a major investor in businesses on Alamo Plaza, offers a well thought-out response to criticism of the businesses around the Alamo.

Update on March 6: The Express-News Editorial Board weighs in on the plaza and historical accuracy.

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