ST. PETERSBURG — A little more than two years ago, Krista Bertelson successfully lobbied for new rules that would allow open-air pedal-powered party buses in the city.
The company she manages, PedalPub, became one of the first of its kind in the state. Her 16-seat, pedal-powered vehicle is now a familiar sight in the downtown bar and restaurant district, and has sparked similar services in other parts of the state.
But Bertelson went back to City Hall this week — this time to save her business.
Bertelson said since opening in late 2011, business has been stymied by two big things: high insurance costs and a city rule that doesn't allow customers to bring their own alcohol on board.
Bertelson says she can live with the requirement that she carry $5 million in liability insurance if the city eases the alcohol restriction.
"Our tour numbers would quadruple," she predicted, adding that other cities around the state and country have been more open to the BYOB concept.
Bertelson, who previously met one-on-one with council members, found a receptive audience at Thursday's meeting.
"As long as there's a limit to maybe three drinks per person, I'm okay with it," said council member Charlie Gerdes. "It's done everywhere else."
Council member Jim Kennedy agreed. He said he would object, however, to the easing of insurance requirements.
He and other council members asked the city's legal department to return soon with ordinance options.
Bertleson told the council she currently does about 10 tours a month in St. Petersburg. She estimated she could easily be doing 75 to 100 if people could bring their own beer and wine. She said she knows this because she has run them in other states.
"It's actually a much more laid-back experience," she said. "Whereas now people really are just bar hopping."
She said having their own alcohol doesn't stop people from visiting local establishments. She recently got a group from Clearwater who booked hotels and visited local businesses.
"The only reason they came to St. Pete was because of the PedalPub," Bertleson said. "They make a whole night of it just because of that two-hour experience."
Although businesses like Bertelson's are common in places like Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Denver, they are still relatively new in Florida, and different cities have different rules.
Steve Tishman owns and operates Limo Cycle in Sanford and Daytona Beach. The rules are different in those two cities.
Like St. Petersburg, officials in Daytona approved Tishman's business but prohibited on-board drinks. People who pedal around in Sanford, however, are allowed to tote their alcohol with them.
So is there a difference? Tishman said yes — especially with profits.
"We're making money in Sanford," he said. "It has been a huge boost. We tell people we provide the party venue, you supply the party."
Like Bertelson, Tishman said people who bring drinks with them seem to like the casual nature of it. It also hasn't kept them from making stops at bars or restaurants along the tour, he said.
Tishman made an agreement with Sanford officials to report back every 30 days about how the business is going. In the two months Limo Cycle has been in operation, there haven't been any major issues, he said.
Chris Haerting runs Cycle Party in Fort Lauderdale, where people can't bring their own coolers but can keep a drink purchased at a bar as long as it's not in a glass container.
He doesn't have a problem with that.
"I don't want it to be a BYOB," he said, adding that his business also has expanded and will soon add a service in Miami. "It defeats the purpose."
Bertelson sees the rule change as essential for her business here.
"We just can't be successful here the way it is running," she said.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.