Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa Bay high-speed ferry proposal evolving

TAMPA — Two months after the launch of a proposal to create a high-speed ferry service crossing Tampa Bay, terms of the deal may be changing.

Under the initial proposal, backers were asking Hillsborough County taxpayers to front as much as $24 million to pay for docks, parking and even the boats. But the county is pressing New Albany, Ind.-based HMS Ferries Inc. to pay for those capital costs in exchange for a possible operating subsidy to cover some portion of what the company does not recoup in fares.

County officials say the initial proposal puts too much of the risk on taxpayers at a time when government coffers still face stark shortfalls in tax revenues to pay for things such as roads, drainage and other needs.

"The good part of this approach is, if it doesn't work we're not stuck with a bunch of boats that we don't know what to do with," said County Administrator Mike Merrill. The gives the county the ability to pull the plug if needed, he said.

Former county Commissioner Ed Turanchik, a longtime advocate of public mass transit, first pitched the high-speed ferry idea publicly in May. He's now a lawyer with the Akerman Senterfitt firm, which engaged HMS Ferries to consider opening shop on Tampa Bay.

The service here would be built around rush-hour commuter shuttles between MacDill Air Force Base and southern Hillsborough County, where some 5,300 military families live. Catamaran vessels with an initial capacity of 250 to 300 people could be used at other hours to ferry passengers between Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg, or for special events.

A recent survey of MacDill employees showed strong support for the concept, said Ramond Chiaramonte, executive director of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, which commissioned the survey. He was not immediately able to provide a copy of the results.

"I think that it's exciting that an international company thinks that this is a workable thing to do," Chiaramonte said. "It's time we got out of thinking about transportation as only roads. I think this is a good, not terribly expensive way to do that."

Turanchik and representatives of HMS got a warm reception from elected officials and civic leaders when they unveiled their concept. But county commissioners, who are being asked to contribute the bulk of the tax dollars, at least initially, have expressed skepticism at the potential asking price.

Some continue to express interest in the idea, but are not sure it is workable in the near term. Voters in Hillsborough County have not been enthusiastic to back taxpayer supported transit, as evidenced by the 2010 ballot box defeat of a proposal to raise sales taxes primarily for more public buses and local commuter rail.

"There's a will here to try to make it work, but it's got to be advantageous to the public," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has been among the most actively engaged elected officials in talks. "I'm not sure there's a will to put $8 million into it."

That's one figure that has been floated as the initial county investment under the original pitch, though Turanchik said most numbers associated with the deal are fluid.

Merrill said the project may work best as a pilot initially to see if the interest expressed in surveys translates to riders. Ultimately, he said, the analysis of the project's merits will be based on high bars that ensure any public investment is protected.

He, for one, wants to see whether ferry service would attract enough riders to make a true dent in traffic in southern Hillsborough – enough so that it might mitigate the need for road widenings.

Turanchik said he takes heart in the fact that the county has been willing to at least negotiate.

"I think there's pretty much broad-based support for the project," Turanchik said. "But it's got to be done in the context of the county's budgetary realities. I think people are trying to figure that out."

Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

The Rays made official after Monday's game that CF Kevin Kiermaier would be activated on Tuesday.And to make room on the 40- and 25 man rosters, they designated for assignment OF Rob Refsnyder.Acquired from the Indians for cash considerations just be...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

HOUSTON — The Rays brought up several of their top prospects so they can get as much experience as possible.And Monday that included seeing how the relentless defending champion Astros worked their way back from an early four-run deficit to sco...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

HOUSTON — Well before the idea of using a reliever to open games, as the Rays did against the Astros Monday for the 12th time, and then bringing in a starter was even a gleam in the eyes of the current Rays staff, former manager Lou Piniella wa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Nazi or not? Tattoo sparks Twitter storm over wounded New Port Richey veteran

Nazi or not? Tattoo sparks Twitter storm over wounded New Port Richey veteran

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is pushing back against a social media post implying that a combat-wounded New Port Richey veteran has a Nazi symbol tattooed on his arm.In a tweet Monday afternoon, ICE officials denied the vete...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Pinellas protesters: Stop separating families at the border

Pinellas protesters: Stop separating families at the border

Protests were held on both ends of Pinellas County on Monday in opposition to the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents as they seek asylum at the U.S. border."Children are not pawns," "No kids in cages" and "I would...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Private Florida firm buys Rent-A-Center in $1 billion deal

Private Florida firm buys Rent-A-Center in $1 billion deal

An Orlando private equity firm has purchased lease-to-own business Rent-A-Center in a deal valued at more than $1 billion.Vintage Capital Management put a bid in for the company on Friday: $15 per share, $1 per share above its previous offer. Rent-A-...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Report: 40 percent of Florida property will be ‘highly exposed’ to flooding

Report: 40 percent of Florida property will be ‘highly exposed’ to flooding

One of Florida’s biggest draws is also one if its biggest liabilities — its coastline. A new report projects that Florida is at the greatest risk of any state for tidal flooding caused by rising sea levels. And Tampa Bay faces some of the greatest ri...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 8 hours ago