ST. PETERSBURG — Sweeping vistas of waterways edged with miles of public parkland and bustling sidewalks helped entice the owner of a charter yacht company to set course for St. Petersburg.
"St. Pete has grown so much and is so vibrant compared to 25 years ago," said Capt. Steven Siegel, who steers the 128-foot luxury yacht Sir Winston and is a graduate of Lakewood High School.
That's why he convinced his boss to make port in St. Petersburg.
"We see an opportunity to both serve the area and have a nice big yacht here," Siegel said.
So far, the benefits haven't been quite what had been hoped for. Neither the Sir Winston nor the tall ship Lynx is as visible along the city's waterfront as the vessels' owners would like.
Tucked away at the city's downtown port, the Sir Winston sits largely out of sight to the clientele the company seeks for its excursions into Tampa Bay, $100-a-head weddings and corporate events.
Last week, the four-deck, 128-foot yacht ferried dozens of the nation's mayors on a breakfast sightseeing cruise. That's just one of several events the vessel has hosted since arriving in April, but Siegel wants more.
He wants better visibility for his yacht and for him that requires a berth on prime downtown waterfront, near the site of the new Pier, the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort, restaurants and museums.
Like the Sir Winston, the Lynx also seeks more exposure and would like to move from the Harborage Marina. The tall ship from Nantucket is a replica of an 1812 Baltimore Clipper schooner that took part in the War of 1812. Built in 2001, it's now a floating museum that offers educational programs and hosts events.
The Lynx and its supporters are asking for $65,000 in city funds so it can dock in the North Yacht Basin next to the recently launched Cross Bay Ferry. The city money, which would be used for permits, a gangway, sidewalks and fencing, would be matched by local businesses. A floating dock from Harborage Marina will be refurbished by Marinetek and a power pedestal from E&P Industries will provide power to the tall ship.
St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari took the request for funds to his colleagues last week. If approved, it could also mean good news for the Sir Winston. Siegel hopes to get to share the tall ship's floating dock. For now, the yacht sails into the North Yacht Basin to pick up passengers.
A recent trial run that had it dock beside the St. Petersburg Museum of History displeased a descendant of W. L. Straub, who bought the Tampa Bay Times back when it was called the St. Petersburg Times in 1901 and pushed to preserve the city's waterfront for public use. Now North and South Straub Park are named for him.
"I was shocked to learn that the Sir Winston dinner cruise ship (a for-profit dinner cruise ship) had a 'test' dock this past week right in front of our museum …," Lucas DeVicente wrote in a letter to Mayor Rick Kriesman and the City Council.
"As you can see in the attached photos, it is essentially a wall that blocks our magnificent views of the waterfront and downtown. My great-great grandfather Straub fought to protect the waterfront and its views accessible to all, and to have a dedicated port for ships like this. It would be much better off at the Port of St. Petersburg," wrote DeVicente, who also is vice president of the museum's executive committee.
Siegel said the Sir Winston is just looking for a good port to call home.
"We were over there at the request of the city to stop at different locations to see where would be a viable location …where the vessel would fit," Siegel said. "We want nothing but to be a good partner with the city."
Besides a lack of visibility at the city's port, Siegel also said it's difficult for passengers to get on and off at that point. On Monday, Siegel had to help a Times reporter to step down into the 370-passenger yacht and climb up to disembark.
It's unclear how the Lynx, the Cross Bay Ferry — a pilot project connecting downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa — and the Sir Winston will fit into the city's new Pier District plans.
"We are very excited with the interest and the activities that these vessels bring to downtown St. Pete," said Alan DeLisle, the city's development administrator.
"We have not figured it out yet. We are exploring all the options with how this will work with all the vessels. At the same time, the decision about locating the vessels will require Council approval and Army Corps of Engineers approval."
Meanwhile, the city is asking for input from residents about what they want at the municipal marina, which encompasses the North, Central and South yacht basins. A draft of a master plan is expected to be finished in early in 2017. The multimillion-dollar renovation will begin in the Central Basin — its facilities were built in 1963 and are the oldest — and will allow the marina to accommodate larger, more modern boats, said marina and port manager Walter Miller.
The goal is to begin construction in the summer of 2019, he said. The Pier District is expected to be complete by late 2018. Whether the Central Yacht Basin will be a viable place for vessels like the Lynx and the Sir Winston is not yet known. But the Sir Winston, which relocated from Fort Lauderdale, definitely wants a permanent home.
"We are exploring a lot of different ideas," DeLisle said. "We had to get the ferry in place and we did. We're working on the Lynx now."
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.