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City Council Selects 'Go Rio San Antonio' For Lucrative River Barge Contract

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Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
A river barge strolls along San Antonio's Riverwalk. New barges will replace them in the coming months

The San Antonio City Council has selected a new operator for its river barges.  In a 10-1 vote “Go Rio San Antonio” will operate the barges beginning in October. 

The coveted river barge contract is a 10-year, $100 million deal. Go Rio San Antonio is jointly owned by Houston-based Landry’s restaurants, local restaurateur Lisa Wong of Rosarios, and VIA Board Chair Hope Andrade.

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Hope Andrade hugs San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor following Thursday''s vote

Andrade says her company will protect the history and culture of the Riverwalk, “San Antonio has proven that it’s welcome, it’s open for business, for business of all sizes,” she said.

The proposal process drew controversy in February.  Mayor Ivy Taylor spiked the initial selection when Former Mayor Phil Hardberger lobbied for San Antonio River Cruises without being a registered lobbyist. That company is owned by Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises. It placed first in the first round of scoring but lost by just one point to Go Rio the second round.

Entertainment Cruises CEO Kenneth Svendsen says he’s disappointed in the outcome. “I think it was an extraordinary opportunity for the city to pick an extraordinary operator but I also respect the process.”

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Entertainment Cruises CEO Kenneth Svendsen.

His company was recommended by city staff based on the quality of the proposal. Go Rio gained its scoring edge by being a company that included local minority and women-owned businesses. Mayor Ivy Taylor says she did not want to disregard that, “because that is the policy that we adopted as a council and I had no reason to believe that Go Rio would not provide wonderful service for our community,” she said.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg was the only dissenting vote. He favored the Chicago-based company. In a written statement after the vote, Nirenberg said it’s shameful that politics won over public interest. “Twice, a transparent and fair process selected the best company and twice Mayor Taylor intervened to rig the process in favor of a political ally.”

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Credit City of San Antonio
The scoring sheet used to determine how the different companies ranked.