Contracts, contributions mix at Bush’s Alamo project

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George P. Bush
George P. Bush (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

A prominent San Antonio company and campaign contributor engineered a “donor” agreement and a $982,000 contract to work on the state’s controversial “Re-imagined” Alamo project.

Before and after signing the donor agreement, executives at Pape-Dawson Engineers made a series of campaign contributions totaling $13,500 to George P. Bush, the Texas Land Commissioner who is making the Alamo venture the cornerstone of his re-election bid.

Bush’s campaign finance report shows Pape-Dawson CEO Sam Dawson contributed $8,500 in three installments on May 15, 2013, Dec. 10, 2014, and April 21, 2016. Eugene Dawson, listed as director, gave $5,000 on Dec. 10, 2014.

Pape-Dawson’s 2017 contract with Bush’s General Land Office includes $495,000 for archaeological studies, along with GIS mapping and traffic and parking work, according to documents The Texas Monitor obtained from the Land Office through a public records request.

Earlier, the company had an agreement with Bush’s office to “contribute in-kind services to the GLO towards execution/implementation of the Alamo Complex site work.” Signed by Sam Dawson on Jan. 20, 2016, the one-year agreement stated, “The donor (Pape-Dawson) shall contribute to the GLO, free of charge, engineering services at the Alamo Complex Grounds.”

While the contracts and contributions are entirely legal, they illustrate the convergence of the Alamo project and Bush’s political ambitions.

Amid questions about Bush’s stewardship of the Alamo project, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ordered the Senate Finance Committee to investigate expenditures at the historic downtown shrine.

Patrick directed the committee to determine if state funds appropriated to the General Land Office “are spent to emphasize the architectural design and the historical impact the 1836 battle had on the development of Texas as a nation and as a state.”

Public-Private Partnership

The cost of revamping the legendary site is currently estimated at $450 million. The Texas Legislature earmarked $110 million over the past two sessions and San Antonio dedicated $38 million from two public bonds. More than $200 million is expected to be raised from private sources.

The Texas Monitor this month quoted Bush’s political director as saying a $250,000 donation was a pre-condition for a seat on the Alamo Endowment and Foundation boards.

GLO records list $25,480,219 in expenditures for the Alamo project as of this month.

Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald last year described the Alamo overhaul — including the proposed removal of the Cenotaph monument from the battlefield grounds — as a “world-class re-imagining of the site.”

Part of the evolving plan extends to the purchase of three private buildings across Alamo Street and relocation of the businesses elsewhere downtown.

Asked about Pape-Dawson’s role, McDonald said in a statement: “The Alamo is not seeking any in-kind contributions from Pape-Dawson. The Alamo is not in discussions with Pape-Dawson regarding any work beyond the master plan.”

A spokesman for Bush told The Texas Monitor in an email: “Pape-Dawson is a Texas-based firm that was subcontracted by the master plan committee to do much-needed preservation and archaeological work at the Alamo.”

The highest-paid vendor listed in the GLO documents is the Preservation Design Group of Philadelphia, PA. Bush’s office contracted with the architectural firm for services totaling $5,377,452 so far.

Pape-Dawson did not respond to requests for comment.

The engineering company performed pro-bono work in 2014 on another politically charged public-works project: San Antonio’s Vista Ridge water pipeline. Subsequently, the company was named project engineer and led right-of-way negotiations for the $3.4 billion, 142-mile-long pipeline that will tap aquifers in Bastrop, Caldwell, and other Central Texas counties.

In the process, Pape-Dawson donated $9,500 to then-Mayor Ivy Taylor. The contributions triggered an ethics complaint against the mayor. The complaint was dismissed by a special counsel for the city’s Ethics Review Board.

San Antonians familiar with Pape-Dawson say in-kind donor agreements have opened doors to lucrative contracts. “The cost of the [earlier] work is built into those contracts,” a local real-estate manager said, speaking on background. “Sam Dawson is a very ethical guy,” the source added.

See more of Pape-Dawson’s political contributions here.

Bush on the Run

Bush, the 41-year-old son of Jeb and Columba Bush, is a prolific fund-raiser with access to large corporate donors. He collected $1.35 million in just two months for his first run for office in 2014.

He ultimately raised $5.9 million, easily won the Republican primary, and swamped Democrat John Cook in the general election.

“The Commissioner receives donations from Texans from all over the state,” Bush’s spokeswoman told The Texas Monitor via email this week.

With more than $3 million banked for his 2018 re-election campaign, Bush has no major Republican challengers for the March 6 primary. The Associated Press reported that he is “unlikely to draw a formidable Democrat in the general.”

That was back in June. Since then, growing protests over the Alamo have prompted Bush to begin airing radio ads explaining and defending his plans for the San Antonio shrine. His office also put up a new website — SaveTheAlamo.com — to counter the SaveTheAlamo.us site produced by his detractors.

Texas’ 30-day filing period to run for office opens Nov. 11.

The Houston-born, Florida-reared Bush has pledged to “preserve our proud heritage for generations to come.”

We will protect the hallowed grounds and story of the Alamo — a story bigger than Texas … a story about the triumph of freedom over tyranny,” Bush declared during his swearing-in ceremony in 2015.

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