SAN ANTONIO – Docked in the San Antonio Marina, the city's new fleet of electric-river barges floats in wait for its inaugural tours Sunday.
"Oh my God, it's so exciting. So exciting, and what a sense of pride to be part of this incredible crown jewel that San Antonio has — our Riverwalk," said Hope Andrade, CEO of GO RIO San Antonio River Cruises, the city's new river barge operator.
GO RIO, a venture between Andrade, a former Texas secretary of state; restaurateur Lisa Wong; and Landry's, a company that runs numerous restaurants as well as the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino chain, received the 10-year, $100 million contract in May.
On Sunday, GO RIO will take over its new duties, operating the new fleet of brightly colored barges.
"I'm thinking everyone wants to come over and see these beautiful boats," Andrade said.
The boats come in a variety of colors and each has different punched aluminum side panels. The panel designs range from the missions to a decorative "300," for the city's Tricentennial next year.
Each tour boat can fit about 40 passengers. The tables on the dining barges can be adjusted to fit between two and 18 people.
GO RIO will begin with 26 boats, though it hopes to have all 44 boats ready by Dec. 1.
It will start with the tour, dining and taxi services. Wong, GO RIO's president, said GO RIO will add some specialty cruises sometime after the New Year.
"We're going to be also doing some yoga float boats early in the morning for those sporting enthusiasts, as well as some cycling classes," she said.
A news release listed foodie adventures, ghost tours and special, early-morning tours as other planned offerings.
GO RIO is taking over the coveted contract after a controversial bid process, which the city went through twice.
Though GO RIO got points in the selection process for being local, Wong and Andrade's operational partner, Landry's, is headquartered out of Houston.
Wong said, however, she and Andrade own 51 percent of the company and are "very hands-on." The pair also noted that Landry's already employs hundreds of people in San Antonio.
Both times through the bidding process, a citizen evaluation committee recommended Chicago-based San Antonio River Cruises get the contract.
When GO RIO came out ahead by just over one point on the city's scoring matrix the second time around, it was due to preference points for local and small businesses, and city staff recommended San Antonio River Cruises due to its experience and qualifications.
The City Council members at the time voted 10-1 in May to award the contract to GO RIO. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who was still a councilman at the time, was the lone dissenting vote.