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Is there enough support for ferry service between St. Pete and Tampa?

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman's proposal for a ferry service between St. Petersburg and Tampa has won praise in some circles.

That he plans to put $350,000 from the city's $6.5 million in BP oil spill settlement money toward his vision has also brought harsh criticism.

And that sum is just seed money for a plan that could require as much as $1 million before the first ferry pushes off from the docks.

"It is a contingent investment, and it represents the city's contribution to a pilot program," Kriseman said in a memo. "If the other participants do not provide their share of the investment, the city will not either."

The City Council will discuss the matter today.

Council member Karl Nurse said Wednesday he wants to ensure some of the money is used to fix the city's sewers.

"What could be more sustainable and resilient and environmentally friendly than not dumping raw sewage into your community?" Nurse said.

Others, like David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, said the ferry service is just what the area needs. Such a plan is simply good for business, he said.

"Two of the fastest-growing segments of our tourism demographics are international visitors and millennials. They consider it a failure if a destination doesn't offer robust transit options," he said.

"So anything a city can do to offer transportation alternatives on any front — by rail or sea, even a bike-share program — would provide them with a marketing advantage, if their objective is to draw visitors."

Other Pinellas County cities are getting into the act. Clearwater has a ferry service from downtown to the beach. Now Madeira Beach is also planning one.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik said he has talked with Kriseman about how a ferry service could work. Turanchik recently proposed a ferry project to Hillsborough County officials that would link MacDill Air Force Base and south Hillsborough County, and also include a Tampa-to-St. Petersburg leg.

The service proposed by Kriseman is "entirely feasible, but it will take a certain amount of regional corporation from a facilities and funding perspective," Turanchik said. He estimated that it would cost at least $1 million to get the service running and to operate it for the first six months.

"But that's total costs before revenues come in and the revenue would offset those costs," he said. "It is unlikely to be profitable, but it will be a pretty cool tool for our tourism and a fun thing for our residents."

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said she has talked with both Kriseman and Turanchik about the ferry. Asked whether the county would contribute to the project, Long said officials have not yet begun talking about how to spend the county's share of BP money.

"I am interested in the idea and I applaud the mayor for thinking outside the box, so we'll just go forward and see what happens from there."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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