A divided Dallas City Council Wednesday voted to open up bidding to new vendors seeking part of the concession business at Love Field.
Months of contentious debate over concession contracts at the Dallas airport included racial overtones among council members and in the community.
Mayor Tom Leppert insisted that competition for the contracts would ensure the best deal for the city and taxpayers. He complained that the current vendors were to receive a no-bid extension for many years.
African American and Latino council members and community leaders had lined up in support of the existing vendors which include Latino and African American owned small businesses.
Dallas State Representative Helen Giddings and U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, both African Americans, are connected to the firms.
Their supporters say the vendors have provided good service at Love Field during bad times and deserved the extension to continue that good service.
Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke's Combined Methodist Church spoke in support of the existing vendors at the City Council Meeting.
"These small businesses have served us in superior fashion and it is a slap in their face when you refuse to take into account their contributions to our city," Gordon said.
"I will be fighting for what it right, and this is wrong," said Council member Carolyn Davis in opposition to new bids.
The debate comes as the city plans construction of a new Love Field Terminal to open in 2014 at the same time as long haul flight restrictions at the airport end with lifting of the Wright Amendment.
Some council members argued that loosing concession services during the construction period would damage the airport and new vendors could prove to be unreliable.
"We got to look at over all, the construction period. To me that’s the key, to maintain what we got, to maintain the customer service," said Councilman Tennell Atkins.
But Councilman Ron Natinsky said it is unlikely that no responsible vendors could be found to operate at Love Field.
"You’ve got people killing each other, just about or figuratively killing each other, to get a shot at that space," Natinsky said.
African American businessman Fred Conwright, who wants to bid for space at Love Field, brought a large group of African American supporters to stand beside him at Wednesday's council meeting.
Conwright is co-owner of Two Podners BarBQ near Dallas Fair Park and he also operates a food concession business at DFW Airport.
"Make this thing fair," Conwright said. "I’ve served my community well. I’m from the southern sector."
Over the past several weeks, the mayor and several council members developed the compromise to take new bids for the Love Field concessions, but also to allow the existing bidders the right on first refusal.
With minor changes, the city council approved Option 4 on a briefing presented at the meeting Wednesday.
African American Council members Dwaine Caraway and Tennel Atkins crossed racial lines to support the final 10 to 5 voter in favor of the compromise.