SAN ANTONIO — One state lawmaker wants the world to remember this about the Alamo: It belongs to Texas.
A legislative proposal by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would ban any foreign entity from owning, controlling or managing the Alamo complex. Campbell proposed the Protect the Alamo Act in response to a nomination that could make the San Antonio Missions — including the emblematic Alamo — a World Heritage site in July through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“It's already one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet,” Campbell said. “The Alamo is the story of Texas. It was there that Texas first stood her ground to be free, and the U.N. doesn't have any business there.”
If passed, the bill would prohibit the Texas General Land Office, which manages the Alamo and surrounding properties, from entering into a contract that would allow an “entity formed under the laws of another country” to manage the historic site, known for the pivotal Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
But according to former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, the ownership of the Alamo has never been at risk. He presided over the General Land Office when the Alamo was formally placed on the list of nominated World Heritage sites, and can't understand the need for a bill to protect the Alamo.
“The only way that the Alamo could pass into the hands of a foreign institute is if the Legislature did that – and do I think there's any risk that the Legislature will transfer ownership of the Alamo to the U.N.?” Patterson said. “Not this week. Can you imagine an elected official in Texas transferring anything to the U.N.?”
As land commissioner, Patterson said he supported the World Heritage nomination as long as concealed handguns would continue to be allowed at the Alamo and Texas would continue to have sovereignty over the property.
The process of placing the San Antonio Missions on the World Heritage nominations list took nearly six years. After four years on the tentative list of sites considered by the United States, the Alamo and other missions were moved to nominated status in 2012 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
A World Heritage designation would add up to $105 million in additional economic activity to Bexar County by 2025, as well as up to 1,100 jobs and as much as $2.2 million in additional hotel tax revenue, according to a 2013 report by the Harbinger Consulting Group.
The role of the General Land Office, in terms of control of the complex, would not change.
“In terms of practicality, the World Heritage status does not change management or ownership,” said Susan Snow, the World Heritage coordinator at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. “This is a designation that gives us the right to put the San Antonio Missions at the same level as the pyramids of Giza or the Great Wall of China.”
“People hear United Nations or UNESCO and they think, 'Agh, foreign control!'” Snow added.
On Thursday afternoon in San Antonio, the sun reflected off the Alamo's white stone facade. Tour buses and the Alamo trolley made rounds through the downtown blocks, while a mix of foreign and Texas tourists sat in the shade of the oak trees outside the mission.
"We think that the UNESCO nomination could possibly bring more tourists, and maybe more donations, too. That's the word around the 'mo," said Vince Maldonado, who works for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the longtime caretakers of the Alamo. He rents audio equipment to visitors who want to take a guided tour.
"It deserves that nomination — it's one of the most interesting places in the world," said Susan Baker, a lifetime San Antonio resident. "I can't imagine that UNESCO would want to change anything here."
But for Campbell, with six months until the 2015 designated World Heritage Sites are released, there is no reason to take any risks with something as dear to the heart of Texans as the Alamo.
“I see it as UNESCO getting in a feather in their cap, not the Alamo getting one in theirs,” said Campbell, who said she is neutral about the UNESCO designation. “The designation might be harmless, but so is my bill about the Alamo. I'm just building in a protection that says nobody can take it.”