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CrossBay Ferry will run again between St. Petersburg and Tampa

Customers board the Cross Bay Ferry in St. Petersburg in March 2017 for a scheduled departure for Tampa. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
Customers board the Cross Bay Ferry in St. Petersburg in March 2017 for a scheduled departure for Tampa. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published Aug. 22, 2018

CLEARWATER — The CrossBay Ferry that links the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa is returning in November — but don't count on an abundance of nearby parking spots in the Sunshine City.

The Pinellas County Commission voted 6-1 on Tuesday to join the Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils, and the Hillsborough County Commission, in each approving a $150,000 subsidy. The vote ensures the ferry will return for a second run.

The last time the CrossBay Ferry operated in St. Petersburg, it docked near the downtown Pier, which had parking close by. With the Pier District under reconstruction, the ferry will now dock near the Vinoy Marina.

That means when the ferry operates from November through April, passengers will have to fight for metered spots on or near Bayshore Drive NE or park in a garage at least one-half mile away. And weekend ferry service will happen when waterfront and downtown parks are clogged with events.

The Pinellas County Commission didn't know about potential parking issues until Tuesday. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman didn't mention it last month during his pitch for the money.

"I am concerned about the lack of parking," commissioner Janet Long said. "It's already a pretty heavily traveled area."

Commission chair Ken Welch asked how the city will deal with the parking issues, adding: "The flip side of a busy downtown is parking issues."

Commissioner Dave Eggers didn't support the measure, saying taxpayer money shouldn't pay for the service.

When the ferry last ran, many passengers parked in a surface lot and walked a few hundred feet to the ferry.

Joe Zeoli, a city director, told commissioners the Sundial parking garage has 1,295 spaces and that the city is still working on parking options, including adjusting meters during ferry hours. Another option, he said, could include riders catching a small bus that loops through downtown. He noted that parking options are better in St. Petersburg than in Tampa.

"It is convenient," Zeoli said. "We believe we do have good, sufficient parking."

The ferry operator is expected to make at least 32 one-way trips per week, with seven-day service. Adult ticket prices would cap out at $8 (the maximum cost for the first run was $10), and there would be discounts for seniors, students, and active and retired military members. Children age 4 or younger will be able to ride for free.

If the ferry returns for the 2019-20 season, the vessel would return to the location near the parking lot, Zeoli said.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and St. Petersburg and Tampa each contributed $350,000 to pay for the 2016-17 pilot program, introducing the bay area to the concept of a leisurely 50-minute ride across the bay. The ferry sold more than 37,000 tickets and proved most popular on weekends.

Under terms of the new proposal, the first $200,000 in revenue generated by the ferry will go to the four governments. The next $200,000 will go to Seattle-based HMS Ferries. After that, profits would be split evenly between the member governments and HMS.

The ferry operator has agreed to return for two additional years, Zeoli said. The city's requests for money from each government entity would decrease each year, depending on ridership figures, he said.

Commissioners stressed that the $150,000 subsidy is only for 2018-19.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.