As budget writers prepare to sell fellow lawmakers on a $209.4 billion two-year state spending plan before the legislative session ends Monday, “Remember the Alamo” may serve as a selling point.
The final version of the budget negotiated by teams from the House and Senate includes a significant boost for the state’s most famous landmark, including up to $25 million for the General Land Office to upgrade the site of the famed 1836 battle deeply etched in the state’s identity.
The proposed increase in state funds comes amid a turbulent period for the Alamo. In March, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush fired the site’s longtime managers, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, effective July 10, citing multiple contract violations.
Amid the management shakeup, the Alamo has also seen a boost in publicity, due in large part to Phil Collins, the British music legend who recently donated a treasure trove of Alamo artifacts from his personal collection to the state. That donation, which includes Davy Crockett’s bullet pouch, Jim Bowie’s sword and Sam Houston’s snuffbox, helped spark lawmakers' interest in increasing the landmark’s funding, according to Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.
“He collected over the years a fabulous collection that he’s donated to Texas,” Nelson said. “One of the provisions that came with that donation is that we have to have a place to house that or it goes back.”
That provision was one that Collins assumed would be a deal breaker when he offered his collection to the state.
“I never actually thought they would go for it, because of space, money and time," Collins told The Texas Tribune last year. "They always seemed to be needing money.”
Both the House and Senate passed two-year budgets this session that included $6.5 million in the General Land Office’s budget specifically for the Alamo, most of that going toward needed repairs. When a budget conference committee was called with members from both chambers to hash out a compromise budget, they agreed to add the authority to spend an additional $25 million to help the land office develop and implement a master plan for the Alamo complex.
Alamo Director Becky Dinnin said that some of the $25 million would go toward developing a visitors’ center to house Collins’ collection.
“We have seven years, really six and a half now, to show significant progress toward building a museum for the collection,” Dinnin said.
Part of the money will also go more broadly toward a partnership with the city of San Antonio to revamp the Alamo and the surrounding grounds. The state owns the Alamo church and nearby barracks and grounds, but the city owns land in front of the site known as Alamo Plaza. Earlier this year, the city and state announced an agreement to give the whole area a makeover.
“This is something that hasn’t been done before, us working together to rethink the whole space,” Dinnin said.
According to a request for qualifications from prospective firms issued jointly by the city and state last month, the goal of the makeover is to make sure visitors leave the Alamo understanding more than that a 13-day battle took place there in 1836.
“It is critical that multiple cultural perspectives and stories be presented so that all members of the community and visitors are able to connect to the story of this historic location – as a Native American encampment, a Spanish Colonial Mission, a Tejano settlement and a public gathering place for commerce and cultural exchange,” the request for qualifications reads.
San Antonio has committed $1 million to the development and implementation of the master plan. The state’s funding would kick in after that. Private donations are also expected to play a part. Last week, both Collins and Bush were at the Alamo for a sneak preview of Texas Rising, a new miniseries about the Texas Revolution and the rise of the Texas Rangers. The event doubled as a fundraiser for the Alamo Endowment, an organization working with the Texas General Land Office to maintain and operate the Alamo complex.