Moses Rose’s bar could be Alamo Plaza project casualty – San Antonio Express-News

A bar named for the reputed “coward of the Alamo” stands in the way of the planned $150 million museum at the historic site — but perhaps not for long.

The city could take the rare action Jan. 26 of using eminent domain to acquire Moses Rose’s Hideout, at 516 E. Houston St., after several years of negotiation with the bar’s owner.

If approved, the council action would be the first use of eminent domain, by which the city can legally seize private property at its appraised value — but without the owner’s consent — for the nearly $400 million makeover of the Alamo.

On ExpressNews.com: Alamo previews exhibit hall set to open in March

The property sits next to the 1921 Woolworth Building, one of three state-owned structures to be renovated for the museum project in Alamo Plaza. It would provide space for a loading dock, electrical vault and public access to entries and museum galleries.

Vince Cantu, who’s owned the bar for 12 years, has turned down several requests to sell it.

The Alamo Trust, a project partner with the city and General Land Office, offered Cantu $2.5 million in April for the property.

Cantu declined and said the new museum next door would increase the value of his property.

He asked for $17 million.

The trust and Land Office, which paid $14.4 million in 2015 for the three buildings in Alamo Plaza, balked at Cantu’s asking price for the 4,700-square-foot building. They hired a national appraisal management company in December that estimated the value of Cantu’s property at $2.1 million.

In light of Cantu’s argument that the value will increase, the company, CBRE, conducted a second evaluation with a 10-year projection that placed its value at $2.8 million in 2032. The trust offered the bar owner $3.5 million for the property last month, but he again declined.

Cantu questioned the property evaluation methodology and its value in future years.

“Appraisals can say just what you want them to say,” he said.

He also provided his Dec. 5 response to the Alamo Trust’s latest offer.

“The decision to sell, and walk away from this incredible economic opportunity that would effect us, and many future generations of the Cantu/Harwood family, should be decided by us, the property owners,” Cantu wrote. “Not by you, the government. That is what the battle of the Alamo was all about.”

Former Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who just completed eight years in office leading the public-private Alamo project, said the offers were generous. But Bush said the owner declined and returned with an “outrageous” counter-offer.

Moses Rose's Hideout bar owner Vince Cantu sits on a swing outside of his bar that is beside Maverick Walk. The bar sits near the historic Woolworth Building on Houston Street, and its patio is on city property, a right-of-way known as Maverick Walk, that is being leased to the GLO for the massive Alamo makeover.

Moses Rose’s Hideout bar owner Vince Cantu sits on a swing outside of his bar that is beside Maverick Walk. The bar sits near the historic Woolworth Building on Houston Street, and its patio is on city property, a right-of-way known as Maverick Walk, that is being leased to the GLO for the massive Alamo makeover.

Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

“I just think it’s dishonorable,” Bush said. “With the team that we have at the city, county and state level, we’ll come to a reasonable settlement with this gentleman. But he can’t hijack this process. We need cooler heads to prevail, where he gets adequately compensated, and we can move forward with the museum and visitor center.”

The General Land Office doesn’t have the power of eminent domain without authorization from the Legislature. But Bush said nothing stops the city or Bexar County, which has committed $25 million to the museum, from using eminent domain if local leaders supported it.

City officials have not publicly commented on the matter.

Cantu has said he’s willing to sell his property — only to the Alamo, for the right price that includes the cost of paying off taxes and a bank note — but he can’t make decisions about his long-term future until the issue is settled.

“If they need my property for the museum, I’ve told them that I’m willing to sell to them only,” Cantu said last summer. “Otherwise, I’d like to be part of the new Alamo economy that’s going to be incredible after they open up the museum.”

“I wake up every morning checking my emails to see if I’m going to have my property taken away from me,” Cantu said in July. “I don’t know whether to replace a $10,000 air conditioner or whether I’m going to get a letter the next day saying I’m eminent domain-ed. I don’t know how to run a business that way.”

Construction of the 100,000-square-foot facility is set to begin in June, “fulfilling a promise to the state of Texas and the city of San Antonio,” the trust said in a statement. The museum and visitor center is set to open in March 2026.

Alamo Trust officials have said acquisition of the property is the last critical hurdle to clear for work to start on the museum. Without it, the trust likely would have to reduce the size of a planned civil rights exhibit in the Woolworth Building, which once housed one of seven downtown lunch counters that peacefully desegregated in 1960.

The property also is needed, officials said, to provide retail and private event space and a 4D theater on the museum’s first floor. Without those features, the trust projects the visitor center “will no longer be a financially sustainable operation and will require city/state support on an annual basis,” according to an executive summary.

“Throughout the process, Alamo Trust Inc. and the Texas General Land Office have negotiated in good faith with businesses occupying the surrounding area required for the Alamo plan to move forward, and in every instance but one, we have reached mutually agreeable terms with their owners,” the trust said.

Most businesses that once operated under leases in the three state-owned buildings have vacated. Three amusement attractions run by Phillips Entertainment for up to 20 years in the plaza moved out in November.

The last business still operating under a lease at the museum site, Jimmy John’s, has a lease in the Woolworth Building that expires Jan. 31.

“Having reached an impasse with Mr. Cantu, we have no choice but to urge the city of San Antonio City Council to explore the option to acquire his property so the Alamo Visitor Center and Museum can move forward without unnecessary delay,” the trust said.

Although parts of Cantu’s building date to the 1880s, the structure has been heavily modified and is not a designated historic landmark.

The bar is lightheartedly named after Louis “Moses” Rose, a Frenchman who fled the Alamo a few days before the battle or perhaps during the early morning fighting on March 6, 1836. Rose, sometimes called the “coward of the Alamo,” died 15 years later in Louisiana.

On ExpressNews.com: Alamo museum’s largest gallery to focus on battle

Cantu also sparred with Alamo officials last year over railings, seating, bench swings and a shade structure on a 10-foot-wide patio running the length of his bar on Maverick Walk — city land overseen by the Land Office and Alamo Trust. The bar’s city permit to use part of the alley expired in February 2020. Most of the outdoor furniture has since been removed.

The Alamo Trust is preparing to present plans for the museum at the Texas Historical Commission’s Feb. 1 meeting in Austin. The General Land Office, meanwhile, is requesting funding this year from the Legislature to ensure completion of the Alamo makeover.

shuddleston@express-news.net

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