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City Revamps Efforts to Revitalize Alameda Theater


  • City of San Antonio
After years of vacancy and futile attempts at full restoration, the historic Alameda Theater is expected to accept visitors again by the year 2020. The new theater will feature renovations, such as completely repaired murals, stage areas, balconies and seating. City planners also want to add an adjacent outdoor amphitheater, which would allow the facility to host several events simultaneously.

The San Antonio City Council, Bexar County, Texas Public Radio and La Familia Cortez are partnering to fully renovate the Mexican–American entertainment venue with expected costs falling around $26.4 million.

For many, reviving the theater is a matter of cultural significance. At the time of its opening in 1949, it was the largest movie theater to show Spanish-language films and performing arts. During its heyday, the theater featured performers such as Cantinflas, Vicente Fernandez and Pedro Infante.

District 1 City Councilman Roberto C. Trevino said that he wants the Alameda to continue to be a focal point for Latino films and performing arts. "I cannot stress enough how critical it is to preserve culturally significant spaces like the Alameda," Trevino said. "They help tell the rich story of our city and serve as reminders and inspiration to future generations."

According to the assistant city manager Lori Houston, bringing the theater up to operating standards is not only culturally significant but also economically viable. Through a series of market studies led by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management, the city found that a theater like Alameda is in demand in the downtown area. The studies found that the theater could be self sufficient within five years of opening. "There is a need for this facility," Houston said. "We do feel confident that there is enough demand to support the theater."

The city plans to put an independent conservancy in charge of deciding future theater programming. To bolster the theater's revenue, the multipurpose facility will also be open to rent for private events.

The city and Bexar County are the primary funders for the project. The money comes from their Houston Street tax increment reinvestment zone. This means that for several years the city has set aside portions of property owners' taxes in the area for future projects. The saved taxes pay for nearly 70 percent of the project. Texas Public Radio is paying $5 million for its new headquarters, which will be housed in the back part of the theater. The additional funding comes from historic tax credits and philanthropic donations.

This is the latest step in a several-years-long battle to restore the facility. In the past the city received funding to make improvements to the theater, but the restorations never made it past phase one of its three-part plan. "It wasn't enough," Houston said about the funding for the previous project. "The theater still remained closed, and it was not at the level that the city and council would like to see it." She says that this attempt will be different than the past because of a stronger funding partnership and a more unified vision for the theater.

City officials held a meeting on June 27 to update the community on its ideas for the facility. At the meeting, the city's cultural historian Claudia Guerra said that the theater will try to keep the original essence of the theater through projects, such as an Alameda theater archive. In the upcoming months, the city is asking people who previously frequented the Alameda to share their stories with the Office of Historic Preservation. "Beyond protecting and preserving buildings, we really want to protect and preserve the stories that created the wonderful spaces for community," Guerra said.

The city is hosting its first meeting for collecting Alameda stories on July 8. Construction on the site could begin as early as fall 2018.

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