San Antonio’s new river barge is already making waves, but it’s more quiet, sustainable, wheelchair accessible, and versatile than its predecessor.

City officials unveiled the bright green prototype at a Monday morning press conference. The barge is one of potentially 40 more that will replace the aging fleet that currently traverses the San Antonio River Walk in time for the city’s Tricentennial in May 2018.

“It’s more than just a new boat, it’s a new experience,” said Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of government and public affairs.

To celebrate the prototype’s arrival, the City launched a week-long social media contest that encourages locals to post a photo of the new barge on Twitter or Instagram and tag @COSAGOV with the hashtag #NewBargeSA. Participants will compete for a chance to win prizes including an hour-long guided tour for up to 40 people.

“It was important that the new barge design worked for our city because the River Walk is an asset that belongs to all of San Antonio,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said. “The new design is bold, innovative and reflects the character of San Antonio and its people and it honors the original design as San Antonio prepares for Tricentennial 2018.”

The barge features ramps for wheelchairs making it ADA-compliant. Photo by Scott Ball.
The barge features ramps for wheelchairs making it ADA-compliant. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The new barge, which will be joined by an entire fleet by September 2017, was designed by Houston-based Metalab and selected as the winner of the International River Barge Design Competition in April. The design includes an electric motor, wheelchair accessibility, increased legroom, and materials that will reduce ongoing maintenance.

The barge is intended to do more than its dated counterparts. In their proposal, the designers suggested the barge be used for yoga classes, concerts, and play pens for kids in addition to its more traditional uses such as tours, dining cruises, river parades, and commutes.

(Read more: Here’s the Design for San Antonio’s New River Barge)

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) steps off the concept barge. Photo by Scott Ball.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) steps off the new river barge prototype. Photo by Scott Ball.

The City is still working on a request for proposal (RFP) to determine the fleet’s operators. Rio San Antonio Cruises owns and operates the old barges, but the new fleet will be owned by the City and operated by a private company which Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said will be chosen by the end of the year.

“In order to get what we wanted, we took it out of the hands of the operator,” Councilman Treviño said. “This allowed us more flexibility on the design that we wanted by creating the design competition with the American Institute of Architects.”

The prototype will be tested on the San Antonio River over the next 30 days. The prototype cost $135,000 but once designs are finalized and the manufacturing process streamlined, additional barges will cost less than $100,000 each, Treviño said.

“We will use this time to collect feedback from our stakeholders on functionality of the river barge prior to fabricating the entire fleet,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley. “So we invite your input.”

The barge itself seats about 40 people. Benches surround the perimeter of the boat and a line of 15 chairs runs down the middle. All of the chairs are removable, allowing for alternative uses of the barge such as yoga classes.

The panels that surround the boat have unlimited design options, allowing for a potential Spurs-themed design, Sculley said. At night, colored lights beneath the hull of the boat will illuminate the barge making it appear as if it were floating on top of the water.

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“These new changes are modern, but they reflect the history and character of our progressive and growing city,” Sculley said.

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Katie Walsh

Katie Walsh studies journalism and English at the University of Texas at Austin and will graduate in May 2017.