San Antonio Council OKs eminent domain takeover of Moses Rose’s to make way for Alamo center

The owner has held out for a higher price, saying officials behind the project never entered into serious negotiations.

click to enlarge Alamo Trust officials said the property occupied by Moses Rose's Hideout is the last remaining piece needed to build the Alamo Museum and Visitor Center. - Screen Capture / Google Maps
Screen Capture / Google Maps
Alamo Trust officials said the property occupied by Moses Rose's Hideout is the last remaining piece needed to build the Alamo Museum and Visitor Center.
City council voted 9-2 Thursday to invoke eminent domain to force the sale of downtown bar Moses Rose's Hideout, which sits in the footprint of the proposed $150 million Alamo Visitor Center and Museum.

The center is a key component of the redesign of Alamo Plaza, which the city, the Texas General Land Office and the nonprofit Alamo Trust have been working to hash out for nearly a decade in an effort to bolster the historical site.

While other nearby businesses reached deals to vacate, Moses Rose's owner Vince Cantu has held out for what he's described as a $17 million "happy price," which city, state and Alamo Trust officials described as unrealistic.

The last offer made to the bar owner — based on an independent appraisal valuing his property at $2.8 million in 10 years — stands at $3.5 million, according to Alamo Trust officials.

During his appearance before council, Cantu said proponents of the Alamo project  only presented him with lowball offers and never made serious attempts to enter talks. In a statement supplied to the Current Wednesday, he said he needed an additional month to "negotiate in good faith."

"If I sell my property at the current appraisal price and pay off my note and my taxes, I’ll be left with a relatively small sum, and no job or means of income at 60 years old," Cantu said in the emailed statement. "And I have kids to put through college."

Even so, the majority of those who spoke at the meeting were in favor of the process, saying they're eager to see the Alamo's story be conveyed more fully. Some brought up the integration of the Woolworth lunch counter in Alamo Plaza — something expected to be featured in the museum — as a significant civil-rights moment.

Members of council said they didn't take invoking eminent domain lightly. The legal process allows state and local entities, in specific cases, to take a property without the owner's consent and pay out compensation for its appraised value.

Even so, several on council said it's time for the Alamo project, which has suffered multiple delays and years of deliberations, to move ahead.

"I have seen this [process] go on and on about how to tell the story," District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran said, thanking speakers for reminding council of the site's importance to both Tejanos and African Americans. "This time around, we want to get it right, and we want to do it fairly."

The two dissenting votes came from District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, both of whom unsuccessfully sought to push back the vote by two weeks to allow the parties to go back to the table.

"There's a history in San Antonio of land grabs, so I want to make sure a small business wasn't subjected to a land grab here," Castillo said.

After inquiries from members of council, City Attorney Andy Segovia said the eminent domain vote doesn't preclude Cantu from re-entering negotiations. Indeed, the vote may accelerate the process of reaching a deal, he added.

"The expectation is that we'll enter into negotiations soon after today," Segovia said.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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