St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will get the chance to pitch his ferry service idea to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn Tuesday during a meeting at Tampa City Hall. St. Pete City Council recently approved spending $350,000 from money allocated from the BP oil spill settlement on a six-month pilot project. The project, though, depends on coordination with Tampa.
The news, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, is a good sign for Kriseman. Buckhorn has said in the past that he knew little about the plan and, therefore, wouldn’t commit to using city money to support it.
At issue is whether the ferry company will assume risk if the project isn’t financially viable. That’s an easy issue to overcome with the eager HMS Ferry Services chosen to launch the project.
It’s also a chance for the two mayors to find common ground in the transit realm. St. Pete wants to keep the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa has long been “flirting” with the team.
Successful attendance for the team on either side of the bay will likely be heavily influenced by fans’ ability to cross Tampa Bay. Tropicana Field attendance has long struggled, many attributing the problem to Tampa fans not wanting to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Although Tampa is more populous, the same issue would likely discourage attendance there as well.
A ferry to shuttle fans would give traffic-weary fans another option. It also furthers a message both mayors have been pushing: The region needs better transit options and those options must be regional. After voters overwhelmingly rejected the Greenlight Pinellas ballot initiative in 2014 in Pinellas and a similar measure ran aground in Hillsborough before that, it seems a ferry pilot project could be one transit idea the mayors could control.
The meeting doesn’t mean a sure deal for Kriseman, though. With Buckhorn still flirting with gubernatorial aspirations and St. Pete’s Request for Qualifications process being called into question by other ferry service providers, Kriseman will still have to deliver one heck of a pitch to get Buckhorn on his side.
The ferry project would use a boat from the Northeast, where such vessels go on hiatus during the winter. It would shuttle people between both cities’ downtowns.
The proposal is separate from one championed by Tampa’s Ed Turanchik that would initially run between MacDill Air Force Base and South Tampa.