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Woodlands tourism board discusses bringing boats back to the Waterway

January 8, 2019

Less than two months after the famed Waterway Cruisers in The Woodlands were scrapped after sustaining irreparable damage during Hurricane Harvey, officials with the township’s tourism entity discussed options for new boats.

On Tuesday, members of the Visit The Woodlands Board of Directors discussed re-issuing a Request for Interest for a new water vessel operation — the first step in potentially bringing boats back to the township’s waters. However, after lengthy discussion, no action was taken and the issue was rescheduled for discussion in February.

“There aren’t a lot of cities in Texas with a waterway,” said Visit The Woodlands board Chairman Bruce Rieser. “I think we should maximize what we have.”

Tuesday’s discussions were not the first push for new vessels on the Waterway. In March, officials with Visit The Woodlands issued an initial short-term request for proposals from outside contractors. The board approved the removal of the boats from the Waterway in August, most of which had not been functional since Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on greater Houston. One boat was put back into service in December 2017, but was soon rendered inoperable and by early February, the service was shuttered.

Tuesday’s decision, introduced by Visit the Woodlands board President Nick Wolda, would create a new time period for officials to hear bids and formalize the process for already interested parties, of which Wolda said there are five or six.

“People still call every day to ask what time they’re running and when they can book them,” Wolda said of the cruisers.

But, the path to a replacement for the cruisers may be more complicated than just accepting the most attractive bid — the proposal was met with opposition from fellow board members Fred Domenick and John Anthony Brown, who cited low interest in the old boats and a hesitance to use local funds on the project.

Domenick, the general manager of The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center, said staff at the property have noticed little to no curiosity from guests as to where the cruisers went, much less fielded inquiries about how to book a seat on one. And, he added, the responsibility to bring back the boats should fall to a different department.

The proposal also showcased the many moving, intricate parts of bringing back any sort of major water vessel to the Waterway. Before their removal, the six Waterway Cruisers were owned and operated by Waterway Events, LLC., maintained by the Brazos Transit District. They were removed by Florida-based maritime company MGSIII from the Waterway, which is owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation.

“I don’t see this as part of our core mission as the (Convention and Visitors Bureau),” Domenick said.

In their 13 years on the Waterway, the cruisers saw almost half a million riders and were heavily used in township marketing materials. Ten swan-shaped pedal boats were introduced on the Waterway in Town Green Park in August as a partial replacement for the boats, but there remains a gap in the market.

For Rieser, the proposal represented an open door — should the township choose to proceed with replacing the Waterway Cruisers — adding that neither Visit The Woodlands nor the Township Board of Directors would go forward with a proposal that was less than ideal.

“It never hurts to listen,” Rieser said.

mrincon@chron.com

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