NAVIGATING THE ISSUE TAKES EXPERIENCE
THE ART OF COURTING BLACK BUSINESS
The biggest contract is about to be decided on Thursday at the City Council A Session. What is the contract? It is the contract that will approve the next operators of the City’s River Barge on the Riverwalk. The contract is worth $110 million dollars over a ten year term. The top two companies San Antonio River Cruises from Chicago and Go Rio San Antonio. The current barge operator is Rio San Antonio Cruises.
The controversy is which of the top two companies should be selected. The San Antonio River is represented by former Mayor and attorney Phil Hardenberger. The Go Rio San Antonio team is made up of VIA Chairwoman and former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, Rosorio’s CEO Lisa Wong and the 49% partner is the Landry’s restaurant.
One company is white owned from Chicago. The other company is local and Hispanic minority. The city has rules for how contracts must be followed. By the will of the people and City Council, the SEBEDA Ordinance and the Local Ordinances are under attack. Should the city honor the affirmative action program of the City or does the City Manager and her staff have the ability to discount local and minority status to a company that has a longer history in the industry and that scored higher twice in the areas of experience and qualifications, quality of proposal, and economic terms?
The City Manager – Sheryl Sculley and her assistant managers conducted two boards to judge the top companies and the staff recommends San Antonio River Cruises.
Last last year, Mayor Ivy Taylor asked the City Manager to reconduct the board because she felt maybe the former mayor had too much influence on the contract selection process. She ordered the contract be looked at again. During the time the contract went back for review, Go Rio San Antonio reapplied to gain points for being a local business partnership and minority business (SBEDA).
Based on the new points added to Go Rio San Antonio, they emerged as the number one business overall. In last week’s City Council B Session, Councilman Alan Warrick led the charge to state the city manager should honor the local rules voted on and approved that counters historic institutional racism. It appeared the Council was divided. The question will be how can Black businesses achieve an opportunity to be a part of the $110 Million Contract? Local Black businesses have asked why the local
team has not incorporated them in the big opportunity – in fact many question if Black inclusion if presented would be meaningless jobs and positions. We heard that Go Rio San Antonio was open to discuss what they could do with African Americans but that would be after the City Council meeting. Black leaders have stated that if they are not written in the plan, they might as well forget any opportunities being negotiated now.
We did learn the San Antonio River Cruises was courting the Black community in an attempt to build relationships. We learned one Black company has been selected as a new partner; Chelsea’s Catering aka Tony G’s. If San Antonio River Cruises is selected the catering company becomes a conduit to involving other Black businesses… perhaps???? Chairman of the City of San Antonio’s 5 year Diversity Action Plan and Mayoral appointee to the Small Business Advocacy Committee, Christopher Herring “I
believe the City Council will have a tough decision. As a person who has served to make the local and minority preference programs better, I have noticed some areas that need further investigating. I will be at the A session at City Hall and I will speak to what I believe is important.” When we asked Herring what were his thoughts that Tony G’s was selected by the San Antonio River Cruises, he said, “Good. I’m not sure how this impacts city scoring on their matrix. I’m confident this is a good signal but I personally want to see many more firms signed up for partnerships if this company wins. We have never had a business opportunity on the River Walk. If the barge contract can facilitate that opportunity to advance Black businesses I say great. I would say the same thing to Go Rio San Antonio.
I believe the largest contract in San Antonio should have African American business participation and employees. This glaring whole in San Antonio shows itself time and time again when Airmen are graduating on Lackland Air Force Base from Basic training and they text me what are the Black dining experiences on the River Walk. I always have to direct them to the East Side. It’s not the same. The best plan needs to be an inclusive plan and one that truly implements diversity and inclusion that generates financial benefit and opportunity for all.”
We reached out and interviewed the San Antonio River Cruises / Entertainment Cruises Vice President, Paul Sanett to gain his understanding of the contract opportunity. The SA Observer did not reach the Go Rio San Antonio by our publishing deadline.
Observer: Paul, Why does your firm want to do business in San Antonio?
Sanett’s Response: Well, to me it's not why San Antonio, it's why not San Antonio. This is the fastest growing city and already the nation’s 7th largest city, but the diversity is wonderful like a melting pot and there is an incredible kind of heritage and history with all the Missions in the Alamo City. It's such a cool city.
Observer: How long of you been in business?
Sanett’s Response: We have been in business for 24 years since 1978. We are huge philanthropist and our CEO is the former president of Disney and such a great leader in the hospitality industry.
Observer: Do you plan to work with the community at all?
Sanett’s Response: Oh my gosh yes absolutely. We are very excited to get the community involved and bring jobs very good jobs full-time and part-time with bonuses and benefits for certain positions and good steady pay to those in the-community. Our goal is that we will hire a local team to manage this operation which further gives back to the community. For every need of this contract it is important to us to look at all the services that we need for filled within the community and see who can provide those services. This will boost the economy greatly! We really look forward to being in San Antonio! You guys have some great culture, great businesses, and then community. Who wouldn't want to be here?"
Observer: Out of this contract how much revenue do you see this operation giving back to the city of San Antonio?
Sanett’s Response: We are giving back two and a half million dollars to the city of San Antonio (revenue). Right away 2 1/2 million dollars is the revenue that San Antonio will receive if we are awarded this contract that will be locally operated.
Observer: How did you end up partnering with Chelsea's catering?
Sanett’s Response: I have been living in San Antonio for 10 months. I have been a patron of Tony G’s Restaurant. He has great food, he's a great person, he has great longevity of staff as well as good people and great community. All-around he’s a good person who understands and knows the community’s needs and has proven success in the hospitality industry.
Observer: Have you met with any local chamber of commerce’s?
Sanett’s Response: Yes, I have met with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Black Chamber of Commerce. The Alamo City Black Chamber of Commerce’ s Chair Deborah Omawale was very nice and enthusiastic towards our goals.