APOLLO BEACH — While civic leaders applauded a proposal to start a passenger ferry service between southern Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base, some SouthShore residents offered mixed reviews on the proposal.
Community leaders see people commuting on high-speed ferries on the bay rather than clogging local roadways. They envision people moving to SouthShore communities so they can ride the boats to work. And, they visualize ferries eventually transporting people from Tampa and St. Petersburg to tourist venues in the SouthShore area.
"I think it's a great idea," said Sandy Council, a Ruskin resident and president of the Ruskin Community Development Foundation. She was one of about 40 people, mainly civic leaders, who attended a meeting at the Waterset development where the project was unveiled. "I think it's an innovative way of moving people."
HMS Ferries Inc. officials and lawyer Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, said the plan is to start a ferry route somewhere along the Big Bend corridor to MacDill because a large number of people who live in the southern part of the county work at the Tampa military base.
Turanchik said the plan is also to use the boats to transport people to attractions, such as the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and Rays baseball games in St. Petersburg.
"It's fast, it's easy, it's beautiful," Turanchik said.
A typical commute is 22 to 35 miles each way. A trip across the bay is about 6 miles, Turanchik said. He said the ferries would save travel time, take cars off congested roadways and reduce pollution.
"Our roadway network is hopelessly stretched," Turanchik said.
Turanchik said Tampa, St. Petersburg and the SouthShore communities could all benefit with a boost in tourism.
HMS officials and Turanchik held meetings in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Apollo Beach throughout Wednesday. Turanchik, who is leading the project and got HMS involved, said they are trying to see if there is interest in the ferry service in the area.
Some residents peppered the group on the project's cost. Some said the project seems to mostly benefit MacDill employees, yet county, state and federal dollars would be needed to fund the project.
Turanchik said it is proposed as a public-private partnership. HMS would cover the operational costs at about $3.5 million per year. The other costs, estimated at $11 million to $18 million, for the catamarans, docks, terminals, waterways, parking and trams, would fall to the county. The costs would rise if the project expanded.
Ann Waggoner of Apollo Beach was intrigued but not sold on the idea. She said she needs more details on the financing and ferry routes. She also questioned if the boats could handle the area's volatile thunderstorms. And, she wondered if people, herself included, would pay $5 to take a boat.
"It's an interesting idea," Waggoner said. "Obviously, models worked in other places. I just want to look after our tax dollars. You just want to make sure it's been well thought out."
Claudia Davidsen, a resident of Ruskin, completely supports the plan. The former schoolteacher said it would be a boon for southern Hillsborough County. People will want to relocate here. She said she would take the ferry.
"It's just such a smart thing," she said. "I think the community will be stimulated by this."
Ron Simpson, president of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, likes what he has heard so far. Ferries do work, he said.
Simpson took a ferry to work in the 1960s while employed with the U.S. Navy in Washington. He also has taken ferries while on vacation in Delaware.
Simpson said MacDill employees will benefit initially. But, SouthShore could reap rewards when residents from Tampa and St. Petersburg hop a boat to visit here. The area is packed with festivals and tourist venues, such as the Manatee Viewing Center.
"Personally, I love the idea," he said.
Monica Bennett can be reached at [email protected]