The Cruise Boat War at Lake Nasworthy Begins
There is a war heating up on Lake Nasworthy between the established cruise boat operator, Concho Cruises, and the upstart steamboat tour boat, The Concho River Queen. The Fort Sumter of the war was the regularly scheduled San Angelo City Council Meeting held last Tuesday.
The steamboat isn’t even in the water here yet, and Concho Cruises already wants to sink it.
At issue is that the start-up steamboat company desires to lease land from the city to operate near the boat docks at the city’s Mary E. Lee Park, behind the Nature Center at Lake Nasworthy. And that’s near where Concho Cruises launches its dinner cruises, paddleboats and other attractions.
The proprietor of Concho Cruises, Captain Danny Nickell, told the council that he doesn’t welcome the competition. Nickell said he didn’t like the name, “Concho River Queen Cruises,” that the upstart chose, either.
“We worked night and day to build it, and more or less he’s coming in running off our name and taking our clientele and everything else. And it’s more of a hobby to him,” Nickell said as he fired the first volley of the war.
“This is what we feed our family [with] and et cetera. I mean this is our life, Nickell said.
“The second issue is that there’s no way two 14-foot boats are going to go up and down the Concho River,” he said, explaining that there is not enough room to pass one another. “But look. I’m not trying to steal the guy’s dreams or whatever. The only thing we request is a different location and a different name. “
Nickell described what he believes will be overcrowding if the city enters a lease agreement with the Concho Queen steamboat. Concho Cruises has a large presence in the same general area.
As Concho Cruises fired the opening shots, The Concho River Queen wasn’t there to witness them. Mack Fox, the start-up’s owner, had scheduled his presentation for 1 p.m. Council agreed to move this agenda item to an earlier time after Nickell said that he couldn’t stay until 1 p.m.
Carl White, the city’s Parks and Recreation Director, ran through the Queen’s PowerPoint slides quickly. For the city budget, the amount of money is very small. The Queen will pay $500 per year for a lease for the first year of operation. The fee increases $250 per year through year five when the annual payment to the city is proposed to be just $1,500.
What Fox and his Queen were seeking was council approval for the city attorney to draw up the lease agreement.
After lunch, Mr. Fox made an abbreviated presentation. “What I am proposing is to bring a truly unique vessel to Lake Nasworthy. A one-of-a-kind vessel [that will] showcase the lake’s origins, its history, the history of the Concho River. Also [it will] focus on the ecological uniqueness of Lake Nasworthy…” Fox said, describing the benefits of his venture to the City.
Mayor Dwain Morrison interrupted. “We’re going to be out of here by one o’clock and we have a couple more items to talk about,” he said. Fox rushed through his slides.
Fox was seeking a 50-foot section of the lakefront that is 70 feet deep to place a floating dock for the steamboat. His requested location is next to Concho Cruises. “I see my business having a very small footprint out there,” he said.
“When it’s all said and done, what I am proposing is a one-of-a-kind boat ride, on our lake, that is unlike anything in this area,” Fox concluded.
Mr. Fox then faced the firing squad from a council that was influenced by Nickell’s discussion. They peppered him with questions.
Councilman Rodney Fleming stated that he was in favor of the lease. But he had three issues. The first was how will the Queen and Concho Cruises pass one another on the Concho River?
“When his boat is out, I’ll know his route and can avoid it. Otherwise, the Texas Parks and Recreation has right-of-way rules for the operation of party barges or vessels…” Fox answered.
Fleming said that the second issue was the name Fox chose for the business. “I would like for you to come up with another name,” Fleming said.
Fox agreed to the terms. “I have some other names going through my head,” he said.
Last, Fleming wanted the lease to be for the Site B, farthest away from Concho Cruises.
Fleming made a motion to direct the city attorney to draw up a lease provided that the name of the upstart doesn’t include the word “Concho” and that the site of the dock is “Site B,” behind the Nature Center and the most distance away from Concho Cruises.
Councilman Winkie Wardlaw seconded it.
Then Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer expressed her objections. They were that Fox had no experience running a boat for hire and that there was “just too much congestion” around the proposed location.
“I’m all for your idea, but I am concerned about the congestion and the location. And I am opposed to the name. I’d rather see [a name] connected with Nasworthy or a person that was famous from out at the base … I’m going to vote against it for those reasons,” Farmer said. (Eds. Note: It’s an Air Force Base. There are no famous Air Force boat captains).
Fox said in an interview afterwards that the State of Texas Parks and Recreation Department licenses boat captains on Texas waterways. He intends to be fully licensed and insured as a boat for hire.
Councilman Don Vardeman was next. “Have you taken into consideration the lake levels?” Vardeman asked.
Fox answered, “Yes sir.”
Vardeman: “I don’t want to throw cold water on you in any shape, form, or fashion. But I’d hate to see you invest a lot of money in this and with our lake [water level] without rain is continually falling. Have you thought about that?”
Fox: “It only draws 30 inches of water, so as long as we’ve got that much we can float her,” Fox said. “If there comes a time when lake levels are too low and we have to close up shop, I am aware of that financially.”
Vardeman asked how the proposed dock location for the Queen fit into the previous council’s $300,000 Gateway study for development at the lake. Assistant City Manager Michael Dane said that the area is designated for commercial development and a developer could come in, and either force the dock to be moved, or not. If not, it could be a benefit to the Queen.
After Dane’s explanation, Vardeman cited his concerns that Fox will lose money, either due to low lake levels or a large developer forcing the Queen’s docks to move, as his reasons for voting against the lease.
Fox said, “When I looked at a city lease option, I wanted to be where the Gateway study would place commercial development.” Citing problems with other sites near residential areas with congestion, he told the council he desired the commercial setting as defined by the Gateway study.
After the meeting, Fox reiterated his desire for being in a commercial area. He said that more parking and other commercial attractions, like motels and resorts, would be beneficial to his business plan of attracting impromptu passengers for short excursions. That is, he wanted the most visible site.
When the discussion was complete, everyone seemed to have changed their mind, including Farmer and Vardeman. The council voted 6-1 to instruct city staff to draw up a lease agreement with the conditions that Fox change the name of his company to not include the word “Concho” and to lease the proposed site in Mary E. Lee Park that was furthest away from the Concho Cruises location.
Councilman Wardlaw voted no.
For Fox, he considered the council’s action a small victory in his quest to bring the steamboat tours to San Angelo. “If we stay on course, the best case is June and the worst case is July for a grand opening,” Fox said after the meeting.
Nickell said that he has never met Fox and is disappointed that Fox hasn't reached out to him. "To me, that just shows a lack of respect," he said.
The next battle will be when city council votes to approve the lease.