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St. Pete City Council delays vote on funds for Tall Ship Lynx

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg council members decided Thursday to send to committee a proposal to spend BP settlement money to build a docking area for the Tall Ship Lynx.

If the proposal passes the council’s budget committee, it would come back for a final decision.

Under the proposal, the council would spend up to $65,000 on infrastructure so the Lynx can winter at the Vinoy Basin/North Yacht Basin. The ship is currently berthed at the Harborage Marina.

The Tall Ship Lynx is an interpretation of an American privateer that was used in the War of 1812. The modern-day Lynx, owned by the Lynx Education Foundation, is used for educational purposes. The Lynx, which costs about $30,000 a month in basic costs to maintain, is financed by rentals and other activities open to tourists and others.

“They are really relying on walk-up traffic,” said Greg Holden, chair of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

That’s why the ship needs to be at the North Basin, he said. The ship would be more visible there than at Harborage so it could attract more visitors. But it can’t simply move there because it requires special accommodations.

Some of those, such as a floating dock, have been pledged by private donors. Council member Ed Montanari. Holden and others suggest that the city should pay the remaining from BP settlement money.

They estimate the cost to the city at $65,000. That would include a gangway, sidewalks, permits, fencing and other site work.

Other council members said they might support the idea of contributing money to keep the Lynx in St. Pete. But, they said they were blindsided by having the item put on the agenda at the last minute. The usual procedure, said Jim Kennedy, would be for the item to go before the council’s budget committee for vetting before it came before the council as a whole.

“It feels very rushed,” Kennedy said. “That makes me uncomfortable.”

Council members were also concerned by a lack of backup contracts. Although they were told the Lynx had committed to remain in St. Pete for the next couple of winters, there was no written agreement. Nor were there written agreements with private benefactors who had agreed to provide a floating dock and other items so the Lynx could be berthed at the North Basin.

Council members were also concerned about the impact the Lynx might have on the design to the Pier approach and a larger marina overhaul that’s in the works. Another concern was whether the money should come from BP funds or another source.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said, “This project is completely attractive to me.”

However, he said, the information that was lacking is why there is a procedure for having items come before the council.

“Right now, it’s a hodgepodge-stick-it-in-there because it’s a nice thing,” Gerdes said.

Gerdes said he agreed that the proposal should go to committee: “Sausage making is ugly and takes time. [Take it to committee and] do it swiftly, but do it right.”

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