The delegation barge makes its way through the Rivercenter Lagoon during the "Bring It" River Rally for the NCAA Committee delegation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The NCAA Committee delegation barge makes its way through the Rivercenter Lagoon during the "Bring It" River Rally. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Design and engineering teams preparing submissions for the San Antonio river barge competition can breath a little easier as the deadline for registration, once due on Dec.11, has been moved to Jan. 5, 2016.

“To date, we have received 14 registrants for the San Antonio River Barge design competition,” stated interim Center City Development and Operations interim Director John Jacks in an email. “AIA San Antonio conducted outreach to local architects and professional organizations and received feedback from the design professionals that interest was high, however, there were other design competitions with competing deadlines.” So they moved the date “to allow greater participation.”

The competition, organized by the City through the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA San Antonio), has drawn submissions from local, national, and international firms, according to City officials.

Five entries were received from out-of-town teams including teams from Austin, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Crystal Lake, Ill., and Shanghai.

“While we have a diverse pool of entrants, we want to allow even more local, national and international teams the opportunity to participate and submit innovative designs representative of our world-class city,” Jacks stated.

river barge competition dates as of Nov. 23

This extension pushes back other key dates in the process by more than a month. Submission packages are now due on Feb. 5 and teams three that make it to the short list will be announced on Feb. 12.

These finalists will receive $10,000 for materials/design development and travel expenses to resubmit a more extensive design proposal and 3-D model that will be available for public review and comment online on March 28.

The winner will be announced during City Council’s B Session on March 30. City Council will have final authority to approve the contract on April 21, 2016. Provided there aren’t any further delays, new barges could be in the water by early 2017.

From previous coverage:

The City is calling for an all-electric fleet of ADA-complaint barges that offer riders shade not available on current barges,  and a design solution that visitors, residents and urban commuters will want to experience. The design competition calls for barges of varying sizes and uses constructed out of the most sustainable materials and employing the latest propulsion technology and engineering. The designs need to be economically feasible and actually work. Click here to download the competition summary.

The winning design will be used to inform two subsequent contracts, one for barge manufacturing and another 10-year contract for barge operation and programming. The City will purchase the new boats and lease them to an operator.

Current barge operator Rio San Antonio Cruises‘ 10-year contract is up in September 2016, but has been extended until a new contract is awarded in early 2017. The local company has operated on the river since 2002 when it took over Yanaguana Cruises’ contract and purchased its barges. The operating contract gives the company an exclusive monopoly to transportation on the river.

“There’s only room for one (operator),” said Jacks during an interview in October.

Some of Rio Cruises’ estimated 45 barges have been replaced, Jacks said, but most are 20 years old.

“Breaking it up into three pieces drives opportunities for more options and more innovative designs,” Jacks said.

A company could still compete in all three processes (design, manufacture, operation) for the top spot if they have the resources, but, he said, this way specialized companies from all over the world can enter the ring.

“This innovative approach will relieve the financial burden of a potential operator having to secure the upfront capital to purchase the barge fleet,” Mayor Ivy Taylor stated. “Not only will we be able to offer an outstanding transportation option, we will encourage more competition through the RFP process.”

AIA San Antonio expects to receive proposals that include at least three different barge sizes and designs – a smaller, more nimble one for commuters, a large tour barge that can seat at least 35 people, and special use barges for dining and other events.

The $88,000 design competition is sponsored by a City funding agreement (which contributed $38,000 to total), San Antonio River Authority ($25,000), and the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau ($25,000). AIA San Antonio is being paid $15,000 to manage the competition for the City.

*Top image: A barge carrying the NCAA Committee delegation makes its way through the Rivercenter Lagoon during the “Bring It” River Rally. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org