Hillsborough Co. commission on-board with ferry talks

The Hillsborough County Commission approved a measure Wednesday to look into whether the county can help fund a high-speed ferry that would run between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is spearheading the $1.3 million project and presented his plan for a ferry pilot program to Hillsborough Commissioners.

"I think that there is a real desire to see this happen and, quite frankly, I'm very excited," Kriseman told reporters afterward.

Kriseman came across the bay to ask for a financial commitment; Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, along with the Cities of Tampa and St. Pete would each have to devote $350,000 to the project.

The ferry would run from the Tampa Convention Center to the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Kriseman estimated the trip would take at least 40 minutes.

But the mayor cautioned that the cities and counties would likely lose money, at least at the first.

"The reality is transportation infrequently is a profit-making venture," Kriseman told commissioners, adding that the real payoff is down the road. "It's all about quality of life. It's all about economic development and if we want to be able to continue to compete as a region with other regions around the country, with other cities and counties around the country, we have to provide a good quality of life and we have to provide good transportation."

The commission agreed to direct staff to determine a possible source for Hillsborough's portion of the funds.

"This is certainly a very viable transportation method and I think it's going to be a win-win for both of our  counties and our cities," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

"We do need to make better use of our waterways," Commissioner Sandra Murman added. "We now have the opportunity to expand tourism with this ferry opportunity and creating that first stop at a regional transportation network."

Stacy White was the only commissioner who voted 'no,' citing funding concerns as a major reason why.

"I believe whole-heartedly that the cities of St. Pete and Tampa should be responsible for a significantly higher  proportion of the funding," he said. "I don't know how I go to a constituent in Fort Lonesome and justify that I've voted in favor of an even split."

St. Pete City Council has already agreed to earmark $350,000. Kriseman is hoping to get commitments from Tampa City Council and Pinellas County Commissioners this month.

If he's able to hammer out a deal with the ferry company, the pilot program would run from Oct. 15 of this year through April 15, 2017.

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