Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Commissioners approve $125,000 for MacDill ferry study

TAMPA — A multimillion-dollar proposal to launch a high-speed ferry service crossing Tampa Bay inched forward Wednesday as Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending up to $125,000 to study its feasibility.

The ferry would primarily shuttle MacDill Air Force Base employees who live in southern Hillsborough to the base from a terminal near Apollo Beach. Routes linking downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg on nights and weekends could be added.

Most of the money commissioners approved spending Wednesday — $100,000 of the $125,000 — will go to HMS Ferries Inc. and South Swell Development Group LLC, the private groups behind the proposal represented by lawyer and former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. Some of that money will cover research Turanchik's clients already did for their unsolicited bid. The remaining $25,000 will cover any costs the county incurs as it researches the ferry.

Commissioner Victor Crist expressed concern this would set a precedent that would bring scores of developers forward looking for public money.

"We could get a line out the door," Crist said.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said that such spending is "the nature of the beast" of public-private partnerships. He seemingly convinced Crist, who eventually voted in favor of the expense, along with five other commissioners.

Commissioner Les Miller was the lone no vote. No one talked to him before the meeting about the proposed spending, Miller said, and he felt too many unanswered questions remain about the ferry's viability.

Turanchik, a longtime advocate of public transit, gave commissioners a slide-show sales pitch that made the ferry's success sound like a certainty.

"No other transportation option can do so much for so little, so fast, and with so much private sector involvement," said Turanchik, using a line he has been repeating for months. His presentation ended with one word displayed on the screen in blue: "WOW!"

Merrill was cooler on the proposal, which calls for the county to spend $24 million on docks, parking and the boats, with HMS covering operating expenses. A number of hurdles remain, he noted, including approval from the Department of Defense to land the ferry at the Air Force base, and an agreement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the land west of U.S. 41 and north of the TECO Big Bend Station in Apollo Beach that Turanchik's clients have proposed for a ferry terminal and park.

"There is much work to be done," Merrill said.

There is also the question of how to pay for it. Commissioners have been meeting for months with the county's three mayors to figure out ways to cover the costs of new roads and possibly transit projects because the pools of money they currently rely upon for transportation work are largely tapped.

In other action Wednesday, commissioners approved the final two contracts that complete the outsourcing of services formerly offered by the county's troubled Homeless Recovery program.

The county will pay the Salvation Army up to $470,000 per year to provide housing and other services for homeless single men and women, and will pay the Agency for Community Treatment Services, or ACTS, up to $630,132 per year to provide help to homeless people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

The county closed Homeless Recovery at the end of 2013 after a series of articles in the Tampa Bay Times highlighted problems with the program, which for years sent homeless families with children to live in squalid properties near sex offenders.

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or

>>fast facts

Administrator's salary rises to $217,350

Hillsborough County Commissioners gave County Administrator Mike Merrill a 3.5 percent raise, taking his salary from $210,000 to $217,350, and suggested he could get a bigger bump soon after they compare his compensation with his peers. The raise was awarded as part of Merrill's annual review, and is on par with the average 3.5 percent raise Merrill gave most county employees late last year. He scored an average 4.5 out of 5 from commissioners who completed evaluations. "This is probably one of the most selfless individuals I've ever worked with," said Commissioner Victor Crist. "You are a consummate public servant." Merrill has been county administrator since 2010. "Thank you all very much," he said. "I appreciate the recognition."

Commissioners approve $125,000 for MacDill ferry study 02/05/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 9:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump's lawyers seek to undercut Mueller's Russia investigation


    Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar …

    President Donald Trump is said to be irritated by the notion that the special counsel's investigation could reach into his and his family's finances. [Associated Press]
  2. North Tampa shooting leaves one man dead


    Times staff

    TAMPA — A man was fatally shot Thursday afternoon after an argument with another man escalated, police said.

  3. St. Pete City Council tightens building rules in historic areas

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — There's a battle being waged over the soul of the city's historic neighborhoods.

    A new larger home sits next to a smaller one in the Kenwood neighborhood in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
  4. Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigns over 'inappropriate conduct' (w/ video)


    OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze was at Jackson Country Club on Wednesday night, giving his yearly rah-rah speech about the Rebels overcoming adversity and getting ready for the college football season.

    If Hugh Freeze hadn’t resigned, Ole Miss says it would have fired him for violating his contract’s moral turpitude clause.
  5. Fennelly: With playoff chase in high gear, it's time for Rays to make a move

    The Heater


    Thursday was an off-day for the Rays, who are coming off a solid western swing. I assume there was no rest for the tag-team Rays baseball brain trust of Matt Silverman, Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom, whose job it is to improve this team in advance of the trade deadline. They've done a good job …

    Evan Longoria is glad to see the Rangers coming to town: He’s batting .296 against them with 15 homers and 56 RBIs in 69 career games.