Editor’s note: Several local and national firms are competing for the 10-year, multimillion-dollar contract with the City of San Antonio to operate the new San Antonio River Walk barges. 

The following commentary was written by Melanie Tawil, a representative of Mery & Associates, which submitted a proposal to be considered for the contract. Their bid ranked third during two scoring processes, behind Go Rio San Antonio and San Antonio River Cruises.

Local attorney and lobbyist Frank Burney is working with Go Rio. Read his response to the selection process and to Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard’s recent column here. Go Rio was ranked highest by a scoring matrix that included a local preference, but City staff will recommend on Thursday that City Council select Entertainment Cruises based on both experience and quality of proposal. The San Antonio River Cruises team also submitted a commentary outlining its proposal here.

Click here to read our coverage. The Rivard Report welcomes commentaries and other submissions presenting diverse viewpoints on issues of community interest.

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Recent chatter throughout San Antonio has been stoked with passionate rhetoric of local versus outsider. Yet there is one thing that has yet to be observed. Many do not know we are not looking at all the teams; we were only introduced to two teams. I would like to present my team, Buena Vista Barges (BVB), as the third option.

We were present at City Council’s B Session, and we are still bewildered as to why both teams scored ahead of us. We know that what we have to offer is more innovative and, dare I say, better than other proposals. We may not have the deep pockets of Landry’s, doing business as Go Rio San Antonio, and the Pritzker Group, doing business as Entertainment Cruises, but we also don’t align with out-of-town interests. We are local small businesses that stand on our own feet, deeply rooted within the San Antonio community. Unfortunately, because we were not one of the top two teams, the public and City Council never heard from us.

At the helm of our team is George Mery, the owner of Elegant Limousine who spent his childhood on Buena Vista Street in the shadows of downtown. He brings this homegrown feel to our team that all others that are struggling, and failing, to achieve.

George teamed up with his brother, Vincent Mery, and Jamal Tawil, both successful local business owners in their own right. In order to beef up the Buena Vista Barges they sought the expertise of their children: Teryn Mery of TM3 Consulting and Fredrick Tawil of SwipeTrack Solutions, of which I am co-founder and CEO. This proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This is how Buena Vista Barges was born, through family, and family first it remains.

We offer the City of San Antonio an expertise unknown to it so far, and we are eager to purely serve it. We brought the knowledge of the tourism industry from over 25 years of being in the industry, as well as a rock-solid operations and concessions proposal.

(Please feel free to review the executive summary here. This document is previously unpublished and it shows the highlights of our proposal for the river barge concession.)

We know technology is the key to innovation and providing an excellent customer experience on the barges and throughout our city. That has been the missing link to our city’s highlight – not some mascot or floating restaurant. In order to become a top, five-star experience, we need on-site ticketing systems, a mobile application, and modern and secure hardware solutions.

Our proposal calls for the introduction of kiosks that would be distributed throughout the city in high-traffic areas and would serve as “Portals to the City.” They will cross-serve many of our wonderful local venues like the San Antonio Zoo, The DoSeum, The Witte Museum, etc. We can do all of this because of partnerships that have been established with the software companies that operate their ticketing systems. People will be able to make dinner reservations without having to open another device – all from one location, making tourism a cinch.

Between the two rounds of grading the proposals for this concession, we improved our experience area by hiring Lee Talamantez. He has been employed by all river barge operators as a driver since the inception of the municipal contract, for over 20 years. His experience on our river is unsurpassed. Thanks to many years of hard work, Lee now finds himself in the position to command the entire fleet. He continues to work on the river with the Paseo del Rio Association to this day.

Lee can tell you the depth of the river from any spot you put him in, as well as the closest entry ports, lock, and dams. Bob Lyons was retained for his vast knowledge of operating the river barges, and Roger Flores rounded out the maritime experience portion of our team by having operated every single barge of any kind on our river.

We are confused as to why BVB came out third, even with the vast experience in our proposal. For some reason, the matrix completely ignored our addition in leadership in the second round. The only points added were the local preference points, which the City acknowledged should have been awarded to us in the first round.

We know we are in it for the long haul – we are all 100% from San Antonio and always will be. This is why we chose to name our company after an iconic passage of our great city – Buena Vista – the Good View. This is all we want for our city, and we are confident we can achieve it. With so much talent and quality available to us right here in San Antonio, there is no need to look elsewhere.

Melanie Tawil

Melanie Tawil is co-founder and CEO of SwipeTrack Solutions, a small IT company from San Antonio. She is very engaged in our local community and local charities, be it as a member to local organizations,...