Florida's first cycleboats make waves in Tampa Bay

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There's something new stirring in the water around downtown Tampa: big cycleboats, powered by groups of riders and not big motors.

Bright green and blue, the 32-foot Kraken Cycleboats are the newest vessels docking near the Tampa Convention Center.

They're the first of their kind in the state.

You may have seen the pedal pubs rolling around St. Petersburg and other large cities.

A cycleboat is that plus water.

It's a boat.

It's a bar.

It's a workout.

"It's just a different way to get out and experience the city on the water," said Co-owner Tony Mendina.

Mendina and co-owner Jeff Rhoades were inspired on a trip to Nashville where they rode a pedal tavern tour on land.

"We said, we are surrounded by water," said Mendina. "We've got to find a way to do it on the water. We found out there was one company making the boats. We gave them a call. A couple months later, it's sitting in the water."

Riders sit at 10 pedal stations, powering the boat.

Though, there is a 10 horsepower engine if your sea legs get weary.

"It's incredibly easy to pedal. If they've experienced it on the street, we don't have hills on the water," Rhoades said.

"Those pedal stations power the big paddle wheel in the back," Mendina said. "The center bar is a cooler so we have it all filled with ice and people bring their own drinks onboard. Along the Riverwalk, there are people running up, taking pictures, dancing along with our music."

It's the latest company dropping anchor in the downtown waterfront.

Simply, their doing business is having a ripple effect.

"Businesses are starting to grow along the docks," said Shaun Drinkard, Executive Director of Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk. "We have multiple small businesses out here, all very successful and most importantly, getting people on the water."

It's all part of a waterfront evolution.

This past June, the final segment of the 2.3-mile Tampa Riverwalk was completed, giving businesses like Columbia Cafe reason to expand for a growing customer base.

"The Riverwalk is a great destination and really, the economic value is there and continuing to grow," Drinkard said. "I think we will see that long-term in the future."
And now, with the addition of Pirate Water Taxi and Kraken Cycleboats, making stops along the water, longtime businesses like Rick's on the River are reeling in the benefits.
"I've seen the place go from just steady, maybe half occupancy, to full within a matter of 10 minutes just from some of these other new businesses on the river," said Manager Mark Keppler. "I'm seeing a lot of customers that I've never met before. It brings them, Then, they tell their friends. It's a snowball effect."

This is just the beginning.

Kraken Cycleboats will bring its second boat to Tampa next week, and its third to Gators Cafe in Johns Pass in November.

"It's been really nice to be a part of the community and see this dream come together. I never thought we'd be here today," Rhoades said.