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Council ponies up for trolley

The plan for an electric streetcar from downtown to Ybor City got a charge on Thursday when the City Council voted to pay for the first stages of the project.

But City Council member Bob Buckhorn, who cast the only vote against the trolley, doesn't think anyone is going to ride it.

"This is not San Francisco," Buckhorn said. "People aren't going to come to Tampa to ride a streetcar."

Years ago, trolley enthusiasts came up with the idea of bringing back streetcars to attract tourists to Tampa and ferry them from downtown to Ybor. With the recent additions of the Florida Aquarium and the Ice Palace _ and the promise from Marriott that a 26-story convention center hotel will be open by the millennium _ city planners felt the time was ripe to link the Channel District to Ybor.

The answer: 2.2 miles of steel rails and a fleet of old-fashioned streetcars that will cost $19-million to build and $1-million each year to operate. Fares _ 50 cents a ride _ will cover only a fraction of yearly expenses. Trolley proponents hope the private sector will help pick up the tab.

The plan is to sell advertising space on streetcars and entice big donors by allowing them to name cars, stations and even the different lines. Ron Rotella, one of Mayor Dick Greco's top aides, will be developing a business plan for the project over the next few months.

City Council members on Thursday voted to spend $630,000 for blueprints and survey work for the trolley.

With all the political support and enthusiasm behind the trolley, it seems that the only thing that could derail it would be if the convention hotel deal, which the City Council approved last week, fell through.

"If there's a streetcar right in front of that hotel and there are hundreds of people staying there with nothing to do, the trolley's going to work," said Council member Scott Paine. "But if for some reason the hotel goes belly-up, I'd say stop this thing today."