Hillsborough County is on board with a pilot program to link the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa with a high-speed ferry service. Hillsborough will spend $350,000 for the six-month test-run that will begin in the middle of this October as long as each of the other three partner governments chip in the same amount. The City of St. Petersburg – and its Mayor Rick Kriseman – are leading the charge and still has to convince Pinellas County and the City of Tampa.
“The vessels would run from downtown St. Pete with our primary boarding being in the Vinoy Basin — which is adjacent to the Museum of History and across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts, to downtown Tampa — with the primary mooring being at the Tampa Convention Center. The St. Pete location, we believe is the perfect place as it provides service and easy transportation from the downtown trolley, the beach trolley. It’s walkable to all of our businesses, our entertainment and arts district and there is ample parking nearby. Likewise, the Tampa location at the convention center also provides a walkable distance to Amalie arena, (and) to Channelside entertainment district. (It) is served by the Tampa streetcar, therefore providing access to Ybor city and additionally provides ample parking at that location.”
Commissioner Sandra Murman told Kriseman it was great to finally move forward with a water connection between the two counties.
“I was so excited to see you take the lead in this regional effort and just sharing this proposal for a new mode of transportation and the regional transportation to connect our cities and our counties across Tampa Bay. We do look forward (to) working with you and we appreciate your vision, and again, taking the lead for the vision. Because we do need to make better use of our waterways. We do have the opportunity to expand tourism with this ferry opportunity and creating the first step in a regional transportation network. This is an investment. I think you always can’t get that return back that first or second year. But, you will get that return back. Because, this creates another notch for VisitTampaBay to market this area to other people. Because we have this bridge now between the two. So, I’m very excited. You know, this County Commission has had the ferry issue in front of us for a couple years now. … This is the lowest cost option we have ever had in front of us for the ferry to test out — this transportation idea, this ferry proposal and providing the value to our citizens.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Kriseman told the Hillsborough County Commission Wednesday that the six-month pilot program would involve one vessel run by HMS Ferries that would make three or four round trips every weekday except Monday and four round trips on weekends and holidays. Kriseman plans to seek an additional $900,000 from the state for a second vessel.
Hillsborough Commissioners supported the plan by a vote of 5-1. Stacy White voted against the ferry saying that rural county residents wouldn’t use it as much so they shouldn’t have to pay the same as the Cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Commissioner Al Higginbotham was not at the meeting.