The buses that come and go and lay over at Williams Park could become a less frequent presence if a plan to relocate the county's busiest transfer point comes to fruition.
The city of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are envisioning a new, modern downtown transportation hub that could include retail space, offices and public parking. They say the new depot could be linked with a proposed passenger rail system.
Construction of the estimated $20 million-plus project is likely to begin within three to five years.
For now, city and PSTA officials are scouting downtown sites — Tampa Bay to Fifth Avenue N and Interstate 275 to Sixth Avenue S — for the project. In the past two months, they've narrowed the sites being considered from 17 to five. Among them is a historic property at Central Avenue and Fourth Street S. If selected, the new transit center would be incorporated into the historic site. Another location on the list encompasses two parking lots off Fourth Street S owned by Times Publishing Co.
Officials say the new terminal will be no ordinary bus depot. PSTA executive director Tim Garling said the agency visualizes a transit center that is more convenient for riders and one that will be well-lighted, safe and secure.
"We're looking to make it a really first-class facility for our customers,'' Garling said.
"As we are looking for those things for our customers, just as importantly, we are looking for a very nice economic development project for downtown St. Petersburg.''
Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation, concurred. "We expect the project will be a mixed-use project, with the transit terminal on the ground floor with the possibility of retail development, and with a public parking facility and possibly private development above," he said.
This is not the first time relocating the Williams Park terminal has been considered. It has been in use since before World War II.
"I think Williams Park has outlived its usefulness,'' Garling said.
Moving the terminal is expected to have several advantages. A city report presented to the Planning and Visioning Commission said relocating the terminal would "reclaim the recreation/open space land use of Williams Park.''
The city hired a consulting firm to study the feasibility of moving the bus depot and will use the findings to help determine the location for what is being referred to as an intermodal transit center. The consultants also might design the new facility. This is the third relocation study since 1979.
"In light of the importance of public transportation in our community and the goals of PSTA to increase its usage, we feel that the time is right to identify and develop this intermodal facility,'' Kubicki said.
For now, city and PSTA officials are focused on selecting property for the new terminal and are beginning to talk to property owners.
An advisory committee, made up of representatives from PSTA, the city, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, is expected to recommend a site to the City Council in about 60 to 90 days, Kubicki said.
Money for the project will come primarily from federal grants. Construction is expected to take less than two years.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.