‘It was a classic go-for-broke campaign’: Former Mayor Henry Cisneros remembers the Alamodome on 30-year anniversary

SAN ANTONIO – Monday is the 30th anniversary of the Alamodome opening its doors to the public. The Alamodome ushered in a new era of large-scale events in the city but was nearly not built.

“It was a classic go-for-broke campaign,” said former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros.

Cisneros was in his final year as the city’s mayor and pushed for the Alamodome to be approved in 1989. He was the catalyst and driving force behind the building.

“We were the largest city in America not to have a facility larger than 30,000 or so. You could go city-by-city across America. We were the largest not to have a suitable facility,” said Cisneros. “The idea was basically to provide a great city with an appropriately sized assembly space for all uses.”

But it was an uphill climb from the start. The Texas Legislature had to approve plans for the stadium, which was to be decided by San Antonio voters.

The city was deeply divided over whether to approve public funds for a stadium. Cisneros put his political weight behind the project and rallied support from city and business leaders.

“When we started the campaign, the dome was opposed by 70% of the people and supported by 30%. On election night, it passed by 51% with 49% opposed,” said Cisneros. “Frankly, my own reputation was riding on it. You take a risk like this, you take a hit, and all of a sudden, your stature starts to fall.”

The Alamodome was built for $186 million and paid off within half a year. Over three decades later, the Alamodome has hosted countless sporting events, concerts and conventions. Cisneros believes that if voters did not approve the Alamodome being built, a similar facility likely would not have been built until years later.

“This is where the Spurs won their first championship. This is where we’ve had NCAA Final Fours multiple times. We would have missed all of that, and I don’t know when it might have happened again,” said Cisneros.

The Alamodome accomplished many of its goals, giving San Antonio the facility to compete for large-scale events, but the NFL never came.

“We came very close to keeping the Saints, but the NFL felt like they couldn’t kick New Orleans while they were down,” said Cisneros.

Cisneros believes the Alamodome was a major gamble that paid off despite the risks of building the facility without a primary tenant or NFL franchise.

“Here’s what I knew, ‘Don’t build it, and you’ll never have a prayer.’ And that is true. We got in the hunt, and we’ve been close several times. But as I say, ‘I think the dome is a success without NFL football,’” said Cisneros. “We’ve had a lot of world-class soccer games, all kinds of youth events, football championships, basketball championships. There’s a lot of things that wouldn’t have happened in San Antonio.”

More than 30 years later, Cisneros reflects on that fateful vote in 1989 and the Alamodome opening four years later.

“I can’t imagine anyone seriously saying we made a mistake, (that) we shouldn’t have built it because so many things have happened that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise,” said Cisneros. “I’m very proud of it and, not in a personal way, but I’m proud that our city stepped up and did the right thing. I love San Antonio. I love its spirit. I love its people, and, in the end, they saw the value, saw the advantage, stepped up and did the right thing.”

Cisneros added that the Alamodome made San Antonio a destination city, even if the road wasn’t always clear.

“You’ve got to compete in this business of being a city. You either grow, or you slip back because other cities are moving forward. The only way to go forward is to continue to invest and grow, and the dome was an investment in San Antonio’s future. It’s an investment that paid off.”

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