Pinellas is in.
Mayor Rick Kriseman secured a commitment from Pinellas County Commissioners on Tuesday — by a vote of 6-1 — to set aside $350,000 for a St. Pete-to-Tampa ferry pilot project.
Pinellas County Commission is now the third local government to verbally commit money to the project, joining St. Petersburg City Council and Hillsborough County Commission, which have each also agreed to set aside $350,000 for the cause.
Kriseman hopes to soon get the same dollar-amount commitment from Tampa as well.
The $1.4 million Kriseman is looking for will go toward funding a single boat to ferry passengers from Downtown Tampa to Downtown St. Pete.
Dave Eggers was the only county commissioner to vote against the earmark, because he felt things were moving a bit too briskly for all parties involved to make a well-educated decision on the matter.
“To me, after listening today, there are more questions than answers,” said Eggers.
And Kriseman, in part, agreed with Eggers, acknowledging that a good amount of project details still need to be worked out, but stressed the benefits of taking action now rather than later.
“Part of the reason I’m pushing […] as quickly as I am, is [because] the Legislature is starting their Session early this year,” said Kriseman, whose plan — despite being in its adolescence — will most likely depend on state funding for a second ferry.
Kriseman also reminded commissioners about next year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, which is being held in Tampa.
“We see an opportunity in the national championship,” said Kriseman, in reference to the inevitable flood of tourism any American sporting event as large as the CFP National Championship brings with it.
“This is an opportunity to try something that this region has been talking about for a long time, but never acted on,” concluded Kriseman.
And while the St. Petersburg Mayor was upfront about wanting the earmark Tuesday, he said he won’t need the actual money until a deal is cut with HMS Ferries — the private ferry company set to undertake the project’s day-to-day operations — which probably won’t happen before the end of May.
Should talks fall through, no public money will be spent.
Before the meeting’s end, the Pinellas County Commission instructed its county administrator to come up with funding sources for the project. One suggestion which came up more than the rest was using some of the county’s about $9.5 million BP settlement money to fund the project.
“I do want to see the business plan,” said Commissioner Ken Welch. “I do want to see exactly what this $1.4 million is going to be used for since it is a private entity that we’re partnering with. But I think the concept is very strong.”
County Commission will next convene for a work session Jan. 19.