Thursday, December 7, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Threadgill’s fighting for airport contract

A battle is brewing over airport restaurant concession contracts, and Threadgill’s is in the middle of the fight.

Also in the middle of a contract fight is the local massage concession known as Knot Anymore, which has provided massage services at the airport for 15 years.

Those contracts will take center stage at today’s meeting, when City Council is scheduled to approve 15 retail packages, including eight food and beverage packages, to serve nine new gates at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Although the Purchasing Office provides backup material describing details about the recommended vendors, details about the second-place finalists are often not provided. In addition to arguments about who should get the contract, Council may raise questions about why it can’t get more information on the other vendors before voting.

Staff is recommending a bid from Host International Inc., which includes the restaurants 24 Diner and Parkside. Supporters of Threadgill’s point out that it is part of the package offered by Paradies Lagardère, whose bid scored 84.58 points, compared to the bid from Host, which scored 84.84 points.

Eddie Wilson, longtime proprietor of Threadgill’s, will be at Council today to argue that a new location at the airport is just what his business needs at a time when rising rents have forced him to consider closing his restaurant at 301 W. Riverside Drive.

On Wednesday, Wilson said he didn’t know why his group’s bid is in a dead heat with one including 24 Diner and Parkside. “I was told a year or two ago that there was some effort to pick places that were representative of old Austin. And so it certainly seemed like we qualified in that respect. That’s one of the reasons why we will have a menu item called Threadgill’s Armadillo World Headquarters Nachos.”

Wilson said the rent at his downtown location has risen so much in the last five to six years that the existence of the restaurant is very much in peril. For last month, he said, the rent was $39,000. A spot at the airport would make a big difference in his decision about whether he can afford to stay at the Riverside location where so many local politicos, city employees and their friends gather for lunch and dinner.

According to backup documentation on that bid, the city would fare better financially if it took the Paradies bid over the Host bid. The Airport Advisory Commission recommended the Host bid, but it is not clear whether they knew that Threadgill’s was part of the runner-up bid.

However, commissioners also voted to recommend local franchisee Knot Anymore as the massage concession, not Xpres Spa, which staff rated considerably higher. As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, four people had signed up to speak against choosing Xpres Spa over the local company.

Airport concessions, including parking, rental cars, retail and food and beverage sales brought in nearly $83 million in Fiscal Year 2016-17, according to a memo from Jim Smith, executive director of the Aviation Department. In the same memo, Smith explained that the two main goals of the solicitation are economic development and customer satisfaction.

The memo also states, “Staff recommendations will provide the entire airport concession program to consist of 70 percent local/regional brands and 30 percent nonlocal/national brands. According to a benchmarking airport survey by ACI–NA,” an airport industry trade group, other airports offer 20 percent local/regional brands and 80 percent national/international brands.

Photo by Altairkh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Airport Advisory Commission: The Austin Airport Advisory Commission makes recommendations to the Austin City Council on aviation projects, grants and the Austin Bergstrom International Airport’s annual operating budget and quality of services.

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport: Run by the city, the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport is located on the old site of Bergstrom Air Force Base it opened to to the public on May 23, 1999.

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