At a recent Alamo Plaza Better Block event, Robert Benavides led about 20 people on a tour of the landmark, where in addition to historical markers and re-enactors of the site’s infamous battle, there were also street vendors selling art, crafts and food.
Benavides, a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, which educates the public and preserves sites and artifacts related to Texas' independence, was bothered by the commercial presence at the event, as were other organization members. They say the Alamo is hallowed ground and not an appropriate place for commerce. But the vendors could become a mainstay if officials decide that is best for revitalizing the area.
Ken Pfeiffer, a Sons of the Republic of Texas spokesman, was particularly offended by the vendors' proximity to a cenotaph memorializing the soldiers.
“How would the proponents of the degradation of this monument like it if we put a flea market on top of the graves of their loved ones? That's essentially what they're doing,” he said.
The vendors were just one idea tested this month at the Better Block event, a demonstration of recommendations by the Project for Public Spaces intended to make the Alamo area a destination for tourists and residents alike. Its family-friendly activities and entertainment drew thousands of visitors, who in turn frequented local shops. Some saw their business increase by 40 percent during the event.
The vendor experiment came on the heels of a decision this summer to allow alcohol in a section of the Alamo complex, a move criticized by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Before any changes are instituted, city officials, along with members of the General Land Office, must update the “interpretive plan” for Alamo Plaza, which sets the tone for what activities take place there, and gather feedback from focus groups.
“We really need to identify what stories we need to be telling about the plaza, and focus on where that interpretation should occur,” said Lori Houston, San Antonio's assistant director of city development.
Andrew Howard, construction director for the Better Block project, which hosted the event and promotes revitalization projects across the nation, acknowledged that debate over the Alamo area is heated. He said event organizers kept that in mind and sought input from preservation organizations and local businesses. He said the event celebrated the Alamo's history as both a battlefront and a trading post, which is why they made a temporary reconstruction of the Alamo’s main gate and used vendors who made traditional food and crafts.
“What we demonstrated is that we can show the full richness of the Alamo's history,” Howard said.
The Sons of the Texas Republic have a different view of how the area should be improved. Members are circulating a petition that calls for the reconstruction of the lower barracks , a permanent re-creation of the main gate and better signage — ideas found in the Project for Public Spaces' recommendations — but also for vendors and entertainers to stay out.
Their say vendors, music, alcohol sales and other entertainment should be restricted to Plaza del Valero, adjacent to the Alamo.
"When someone comes to San Antonio, they don't want to go to a sidewalk cafe. They want to see the Alamo," Pfeiffer said.