Eminent Domain

A Tavern Keeper's Last Stand at the Alamo

Vince Cantu says the eminent domain threats to seize his property are "stupidly ironic" and "completely un-Texan."


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"I'm right in the battlefield of why Texas is Texas," says Vince Cantu, who runs Moses Rose's Hideout, a San Antonio, Texas, bar that's on the site of the Alamo and the famous 1836 battle that was memorialized on the big screen by the likes of John Wayne and Billy Bob Thornton.

Cantu opened Moses Rose's—named ironically after the Texas legend who fled the Alamo instead of standing his ground and fighting—in 2010 after it had sat vacant for many years. He comes from four generations of San Antonio tavern owners.

"I feel like I am on the shoulders of giants," says Cantu. "I like what I do, and I like where I do it. "

The Alamo Trust, a nonprofit that manages the site, wants to expand the Alamo museum, which would include building a theater and civil rights exhibit where Moses Rose's Hideout currently stands. Cantu says that in 2016, the group made its first offer of a million dollars, signed by then-Land Commissioner George P. Bush, which would've barely covered his outstanding loans. Four years later, they upped it to $2 million.

At the outset, the $400 million museum expansion project was supposed to be paid for by private donors. When funding fell through, the state of Texas stepped in to cover the cost. The Alamo project leads made two more offers, which Cantu rejected. He said he'd sell for $15 million. So state officials, who declined to participate in this story, countered by threatening to take his property using eminent domain. Cantu would receive a so-called "fair market price" based on an independent appraiser's estimate of the property's current value.

The appraiser valued it at $2.1 million today and at an estimated $2.8 million in 10 years. In December, the Alamo Trust offered $3.5 million, which Cantu quickly declined.

"They've wanted to negotiate with me over my property, but they wanted a loaded gun to do it," says Cantu, who says the offer is a lowball when he's seen his property values increase by about 18 percent year-over-year and only expects the business to become more valuable as downtown San Antonio grows. "They've wanted the threat of eminent domain hanging over my head [to force] me to take their number."

A pissed-off Cantu started tacking on an extra million-dollar fee to his offer each year that the government threatened him with eminent domain.

Then, earlier this year, George P. Bush (the son of Jeb and the nephew of George W.) called Cantu's refusal to sell at the state's price "dishonorable."

"I told my wife that if I saw [Bush], I would challenge him to a duel in front of the Alamo," says Cantu, laughing. "We'd use squirt guns, not real guns…just to avenge my honor."

Bush didn't respond to Reason's request for comment.

Cantu says he's willing to sell but that he just wants a good enough offer to justify walking away from a successful business that he struggled to build in what he says was once a dilapidated part of town.

"It was a bunch of homeless people [in this neighborhood]," says Cantu, who says the early days of live music at Moses Rose's Hideout consisted mostly of "homeless guys with guitars."  As downtown developed over the following decade, Cantu's attracted wealthier clientele, including tourists visiting the Alamo. "It just kind of started clicking downtown, started opening up a little bit."

The San Antonio City Council voted in late January to authorize the use of eminent domain, which would allow the city to condemn and acquire the property to hand to the Alamo Trust—if Cantu doesn't take their state-backed offer.

After his interview with Reason, Cantu met with the Alamo Trust's attorneys. He says they offered him $2.4 million, more than a million dollars less than what they had offered him before the city authorized the eminent domain process.

"​​It was just a bad faith bullshit negotiation that they had to have before they could start [the] eminent domain [process]," says Cantu.

But he has vowed to keep fighting.

"A Texan is [for] small government and fiercely independent," says Cantu. "It's totally un-Texan. It's stupidly ironic."

Produced by Liz Wolfe and Zach Weissmueller; edited by Danielle Thompson; camera by Andrew Miller. 

Photos: Bob Daemmrich/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; JAMES GREGG/TNS/Newscom

Music: "Do It Again" by Jay Putty via Artlist; "Restless" by Sunriver via Artlist; "For the City" by Sean Magwire via Artlist; "Restless Rebels" by Evert Z via Artlist; "Outlaws of the Old West" by Evert Z via Artlist   

Update: The Alamo Trust emailed after publication to say that following the failed mediation session, it upped its offer to $4 million plus relocation expenses. Cantu has rejected that latest offer.