City Council voted 6-4 on Thursday to award a multimillion dollar contract to an Atlanta-based company to operate several local and national food, beverage, and retail shops at the San Antonio International Airport. However, the agreement requires the company to drop Chick-fil-A from its list of restaurants because of the fast food chain’s association with anti-LGBTQIA groups.

“I want the first thing [a visitor to] see is a San Antonio that is welcoming and that they not see … a symbol of hate,” Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said. On top of that, he added, “I don’t want a restaurant that isn’t available on Sunday either.”

Chick-fil-A’s company policy is to close its restaurants on Sundays.

The vote came after more than three hours of discussion about whether the City should dictate the social politics of companies it does business with and the process of selecting one contractor over another. Two of the contractors being considered partnered with well-known local chefs who own and operate San Antonio favorites.

“This is a very, very tough process,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “A tough decision for me personally because I have friends on both sides.”

But it’s the mayor and City Council’s job to “ensure the integrity of a professional procurement process,” said Nirenberg, who supported the recommendation of a five-member evaluation committee. “If that process yielded either team, it would have been a good decision.”

Councilmen Art Hall (D2), Greg Brockhouse (D6), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10) voted against approving the contract, citing a need to delay the vote for further review. Most disagreed with kicking Chick-fil-A out of the deal.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who abstained from the final vote, motioned to delay the vote until next week so City Council could spend more time reviewing the top two proposals. Only two of her colleagues – Hall and Brockhouse – agreed, so the motion failed.

“With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said in a news release. Treviño submitted the successful motion to remove Chick-fil-A from the list of potential restaurants. “San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Paradies Lagardère, which submitted the winning proposal out of four, is partnering with prominent local Chef Andrew Weissman and other business owners to bring The Luxury, Smoke Shack, Local Coffee, Boss Bagel, and Sip Brew Bar and Market, and a yet-to-be-determined replacement for Chick-fil-A. The retail concepts include Adina’s, a Spurs shop that also will sell merchandise for other local teams, and iStore, an electronics store.

These will occupy more than 10,000 square feet in Terminal A and be operated through licensing agreements with Paradies.

Paradies’ contract, which runs for at least seven years, is expected to yield at least $600,000 more in revenue for the City than the other proposals, Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras said. And it received higher scores on its proposed plan.

ACDBE stands for Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a federally mandated program designed to level the playing field for small businesses who wish to participate in contracting opportunities at airports.
ACDBE stands for Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, a federally mandated program designed to level the playing field for small businesses who wish to participate in contracting opportunities at airports. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

The current tenants were on month-to-month leases, and some teamed up with another company, HMSHost International, that made it to the final round of consideration, but scored 22 points less than Paradies on the selection committee matrix that measured experience, proposal, compensation, and the inclusion of small or minority-owned businesses.

HMSHost partnered with Chef Johnny Hernandez, Chef Jason Dady, and other prominent local business owners that would have brought Bakery Lorraine to the airport and kept longtime airport tenant Gervin’s Sports Bar, owned by Spurs Hall of Famer George Gervin.

HMSHost’s proposal did not include a live music entertainment component as asked for in the request for proposal (RFP), though it did include an open-kitchen concept and a partnership to open another Starbucks.

“If you don’t hit what the RFP is asking for, you’re going to be scored differently,” Contreras said. Click here to download City staff’s presentation to Council.

Local news is at the heart of democracy.

Our newsroom works on your behalf to hold officials accountable. But we can't do it alone. We rely on membership donations from readers to support our fact-based reporting. Will you join us and donate now?

City Council started on its path to bring more local and national businesses to the airport in 2012. The goal is to better represent San Antonio’s cultural and culinary offerings while still providing familiar national brands, he said. The consolidation of leases was done to attract higher a “quality of response” for businesses to move into the airport, according to Contreras. Smaller, local businesses often cannot afford to own and operate a venture in an airport. 

HMSHost already operates several other brands at the airport, Contraras said. “The committee felt unanimously that competition was a good thing.”

A feeling of déjà vu could be felt in Council chambers as some Council members picked apart the process and reasoning the selection committee undertook to select Paradies as the preferred choice. Similar disagreements occurred as the body considered radio contracts for public safety networks. Then there was the fight surrounding the River Barge contract that hinged on the idea of preference for local contractors. Both situations were related to Council wanting to more fully vet contracts before they are brought to a vote.

Most Council members agreed that a separate meeting dedicated to high-profile, long-term, expensive contracts should be scheduled with plenty of time ahead of a vote.

Courage, who voted against the measure, said the City should not be completely re-evaluating contract that already have been vetted. More concerning, he said, is the idea to “start picking and choosing [contracts] based on social issues.”

Chick-fil-A’s stance on LGBTQIA rights is an example of “non-critical issues” for a contract. “How does that spill over into other contracts?” Courage asked.

Brockhouse said if the City wanted to kick out Chick-fil-A, it should evaluate every partner with the same criteria. “This is not just a small change to the contract,” he said, and it could set precedent for future contracts – and for businesses that may think twice before applying to work with a city that changes proposals on the day of a vote.

City Manager Erik Walsh said City staff has tried to provide consistency whenever possible for businesses.

“If you adjust in the middle … it provides a little bit more uncertainty to the process,” Walsh said.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org