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Last-minute call clears the road for party buses in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — After a series of false starts, it looks as if bar hoppers will finally be able to catch a ride on open-air party buses.

Rhett Reynolds, an entrepreneur from Minneapolis-St. Paul, said he will debut his 14-seat vehicle next weekend. It's powered by 10 pedaling passengers and will be marketed to denizens of pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs, especially along Central Avenue and Beach Drive, who don't want to drive after a night of libations.

It'll be the first of its kind on Tampa Bay streets, and Reynolds said he plans next to expand to Ybor City and Clearwater Beach.

He'll have the pedibus on display today in front of downtown's Red Mesa Cantina between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. Those interested in riding it can sign up, he said. Mondays through Friday it'll cost $175 an hour to rent, which, split 14 ways, comes to $12.50 per customer. On Saturdays and Sundays, Reynolds plans to charge $200 an hour, or $14.29 per customer.

"It's been a roller coaster ride to get to this point," Reynolds said. "I had kind of lost faith."

After months of lobbying council members, Reynolds had thought he had won a victory in October when they approved new rules that would allow the buses to operate on city streets. But the rules were strict, limiting where they could go — mainly Central Avenue and Beach Drive — while requiring a hefty $5 million insurance policy.

That insurance requirement was too much for Reynolds and his company, City Cycle Tours, which is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He said one carrier told him it would cost $70,000 a year to have such a policy.

The insurance was also too much for Krista Bertelson. She is the manager of PedalPub, another Minneapolis-St. Paul-based company that operates a fleet of 16-seat vehicles.

On Thursday, they both asked the council to reduce the insurance requirement to $1 million covered per incident, $2 million overall.

But Council Chair Jim Kennedy and council members Leslie Curran and Steve Kornell voted against easing the insurance requirement. Even though a majority of council members — Jeff Danner, Bill Dudley, Wengay Newton, Karl Nurse, Herb Polson — voted to ease the rules, a super majority was required because the ordinance had recently been passed.

"The fact that the companies couldn't find insurance in many respects reinforces to me the need for the insurance in the first place," Kennedy said. "They are having insurance companies tell them that this is unsafe."

Reynolds and Bertelson said the vehicles are safe and that, in most cities, they only need policies that cover up to $1 million.

Without a break on insurance costs from the council, Reynolds and Bertelson said after the meeting they would have to go elsewhere.

"This is the end for St. Pete," Bertelson said. "We can't make it work here."

What Reynolds didn't know at the time, however, was that an insurance carrier had just called his cell phone, which had been put on silent. The carrier could give him the policy he needed for $18,000 a year. He expects gross revenues of $300,000 with low overhead costs. By Reynolds' estimates, he could afford the insurance.

"We're signing it," Reynolds said. "We're good to go."

In other action Thursday, the City Council:

• Unanimously voted to give a historic designation to Jennie Hall Pool, built in 1954 in Wildwood Heights as a pool where black people could swim during segregation. The designation makes it more difficult to close or demolish, which could be important because Mayor Bill Foster is considering a plan to close some city pools and open a couple of large regional aquatic parks in their place. "This is a real easy vote," council member Steve Kornell said. "Jennie Hall Pool means a lot to the entire community."

• Unanimously voted to approve a $105,000 tax break for a yet-to-be identified company to relocate to the Gateway area. The company will get the payment, along with $105,000 in a county tax refund (if Pinellas County Commissioners approve it Tuesday) and $840,000 in a state tax refund, if it creates 150 jobs by the end of December 2014.

Last-minute call clears the road for party buses in St. Petersburg 12/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 11:21pm]

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