ST. PETERSBURG — It remains to be seen whether the Tampa Bay area will embrace the Cross-Bay Ferry that sets sail in November, but local businesses are eager to get on board.
The first of two town halls for hospitality, restaurant and tourism industry leaders was held Tuesday in St. Petersburg, and representatives of dozens of businesses said they are eager to take advantage of the marketing opportunities of the boat service linking the downtowns on opposite sides of Tampa Bay.
"We think it's a great opportunity, and we definitely want to make sure the Dalí Museum is represented there, and that they know we're available," said Jim Nixon, membership and group sales manager at the St. Petersburg museum.
He said the Dalí occasionally partners with existing cruise vessels to bring groups from the Tampa side of the bay, "so we know there's a market."
The ferry project was unveiled last week at a news conference in Tampa. It is a collaboration of St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, each of which has kicked in $350,000 for a 6-month, $1.4 million pilot project to assess the feasibility of the line.
A 98-foot, 149-passenger catamaran, the Provincetown IV, will be based at the yacht basin along Bayshore Drive NE in St. Petersburg and will make two round-trips a day to the Tampa Convention Center and back. There will be three round-trips on Saturdays.
Ed Turanchik, a longtime public transit advocate, said ferry organizers have been "blown away" by the response from the business community. About 60 attended Tuesday's town hall at Hotel Indigo; a second invitation-only meeting is Wednesday in Tampa.
"We have this intense level of interest by the private sector to help this project, promote it and take advantage of it," Turanchik said.
Organizers discussed various levels of marketing alongside the ferry project by the hospitality, restaurant and tourism businesses.
There will also be an onboard monthly publication, Destination, that provides a similar platform on the vessel itself.
Meanwhile, there are promotional support opportunities such as special deals for ferry passengers who present same-day ferry tickets. The ferry line will provide participating businesses with ferry posters and logos.
Eric Trull, program director for Coast Bike Share in Tampa, said he looks forward to merging "two really cool Floridian-style transportation systems." Coast's St. Petersburg operation is scheduled to begin roughly the same time as the ferry operations kick off.
"We're really excited about it," he said. "We've been following it for a couple of years now."
It's not all about business for the St. Petersburg resident, who navigates the Howard Frankland Bridge daily to reach Coast's Tampa offices. "I'm very familiar with that commute," Trull said. "I'm looking forward to it. I'll be among the first to jump on."
From Nov. 3 to Nov. 18, community and business organizations can experience the trip through a series of "Test the Waters" excursions.
Weekend service begins Nov. 4, with Monday-Thursday trips beginning the week of Nov. 28.
With a top speed of about 33 mph, a one-way ride will take about 50 minutes. The fare is $10 each way, $8 for ages 3 through 12, and free for children under 3.
The pilot project will run from early November through April.
Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at firstname.lastname@example.org.