The Tampa Bay, Fla., area is close to giving fast ferry service a try.
Three of four area governments on Florida’s West Coast have agreed to kick in $350,000 each toward a $1.3 million pilot project to run from October to April 2017 connecting St. Petersburg and Tampa.
They would contract with HMS Ferries which has proposed time chartering the Provincetown IV, a 98’x33’x7’ aluminum catamaran delivered by Gladding Hearn Shipbuilding in 2013 to Bay State Cruise Co., Boston. The 149-passenger ferry has a top speed of 32.5 knots.
The vessel could provide three or four roundtrips between the cities’ waterfronts on Friday and four roundtrips on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays except Christmas, according to the HMS proposal.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who’s spearheading the effort, decided to use some of the city’s settlement money from the BP oil spill for the project, said spokesman Ben Kirby, “but part of his proposal was for other governments to pitch in as well.”
So far, the city of St. Petersburg as well as Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are onboard. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is willing to take a look at the project, but he needs to see a detailed plan before making a decision, spokesman Ashley Bauman said. “He wants to make sure there’s money available to fund the project.”
If and when Tampa agrees, “it’s a matter of negotiating the terms,” Kirby said.
A number of things will need to be worked out including ticket prices and shoreside facilities.
The ferry could dock in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg and at the convention center in Tampa. Both locations require infrastructure changes to accommodate the ferry, and both could be modified by using floating barges, HMS’ proposal said.
The project is kind of an empirical traffic study, said Greg Dronkert, president and COO of HMS Ferries, a division of HMS Global Maritime, New Albany, Ind.
“We don’t try to make demand. We try to serve demand,” he said. “We know the elements that are necessary for a ferry project to be successful.”
HMS’ operations include Governors Island in New York City, Mobile Bay in Alabama, and St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla.
If the Florida service goes beyond a pilot project and HMS gets the contract, then they’ll decide what vessel would work best.
“We’re going to test some hypotheses,” Dronkert said.
HMS also has been working under a public-private partnership with Hillsborough County on a proposed high-speed ferry to connect MacDill Air Force Base to South Hillsborough County. That project is in the environmental assessment phase now, he said.