City recommends runner-up to take over River Walk barges

Two different groups want the contract to operate the barges on the River Walk. KENS 5 shows how the winner will be picked and why the decision is in dispute.

SAN ANTONIO - San Antonio City Council members are preparing for a showdown on the river.

Two groups who both want the contract to operate new barges on the River Walk will make direct pitches to the Council Wednesday afternoon.

An evaluation committee ranked five different proposals.

A local group, Go Rio San Antonio, came in first, but the city is recommending a Chicago-based company, operating as San Antonio River Cruises, which came in second.

Former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade and restaurant owner Lisa Wong teamed up with Landry's to form Go Rio San Antonio.

"Hope and myself are very accomplished, successful business women here in San Antonio for the last 35, 40 years.  This is not our first rodeo," Wong said.

Four teams submitted proposals in January and the city recommended San Antonio River Cruises at the time. Proposals were thrown out and re-requested in March after concerns were raised about the selection process.

This round, a matrix was used to rank five teams who submitted new plans.

Go Rio San Antonio scored first.

"I think we've got a hospitality and operator dream team," Andrade said. 

The Go Rio San Antonio team was surprised, though, to learn city staff is once again recommending the Chicago team, even though it came in second on the matrix.

"Bottom line is, we ranked first, I mean, we finished first," Andrade said.

Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras, who oversaw the process, said the Go Rio team came in first on the matrix because of points earned for being local and a small business.

"Their experience is primarily in the restaurant and hospitality business, not so much in the marine hospitality business, so there is a very distinctive difference in the two," Contreras said.

He said the Chicago group simply has more experience and qualifications.

"These folks are in that business, that's what they do, they've been doing this in many cities across the United States, I think they're in 10 cities," Contreras said.

However, Go Rio San Antonio said it followed the rules and questions why there's a matrix if the results are going to be ignored.

"It was done that way so there could be a transparent process in place with a clear winner and loser," Wong said.

Both Go Rio San Antonio and San Antonio River Cruises will make 20-minute presentations to City Council on Wednesday.

San Antonio's Mery & Associates, under the name Buena Vista Barges, came in third on the matrix, followed by current barge operator Rio San Antonio Cruises. Alamo Cruises in San Francisco, California finished last.

The council is expected to make a selection next week.

© 2017 KENS-TV


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