The Cross Bay Ferry, with seasonal service between Tampa and St. Petersburg, will now dock at the Port of St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg no longer has a valid permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use temporary docks across from North Straub Park near the St. Pete Pier. The city had been using a temporary permit since ferry service began in 2016 but was not able to get a renewal this year because of new federal requirements, said Evan Mory, the city’s director of transportation and parking management.
The city plans to submit an application for a new permit this week seeking to dock the ferry back near North Straub Park for three years, he said. In the meantime, Mory said the Port of St. Petersburg is an established deep-water location for commercial activity and not subject to a permit from the Army Corps.
“I think we’re all cautiously optimistic it’ll work out well,” Mory said regarding the “mutual decision” between St. Petersburg and Hillsborough County to use the port.
The HMS Ferries vessel will dock parallel to Eighth Avenue Southeast, just south of Albert Whitted Airport. Mory pointed out a big perk: There will be free parking with no daily time limit in the lot to the left of the port building. The city plans to install bike racks and create a new parking corral for rental scooters and e-bikes.
Ferry season officially began at the start of October, but the HMS Ferries vessel is in Boston. Mory said the seas have been too high for the ferry to return south, but could arrive Sunday.
The City Council on Thursday approved two licensing agreements that give operational flexibility to use Port St. Pete or the North Yacht Basin, should the city receive a permit before the end of this extended ferry season through June.
Mory said the Army Corps offered a six-month extension for the dock near North Straub Park, but the city would have to limit ferry trips to three a day. He said the ferry, which offers four daily trips, is often sold out.
Council member Gina Driscoll called it an “imperfect fix.” She toured the Port St. Pete site on Friday with Mory.
“We’re going from dropping off in a busy area to dropping off in an area that isn’t surrounded by amenities,” she said. “It’s so important that we continue the success of the Cross Bay Ferry. The change in location shouldn’t get in the way of its success.”
The City Council on Thursday also approved an $835 million operating budget for 2024, which includes $250,000 to design a permanent dock for the Cross Bay Ferry and other vessels. That amount does not include or identify funds for construction.
It could take three years until that dock is built, possibly on the St. Pete Pier between an existing L-shaped dock near Spa Beach and the deeper water near the St. Petersburg Museum of History.
Mory said it’s not the first time dockage for the ferry has moved on either side of Tampa Bay. The ferry once went out of the St. Pete Pier before it was redeveloped. On the Tampa side, the dock has moved from downtown Tampa near the convention center to the Port of Tampa.
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“Tampa Bay residents and visitors have embraced the service to the tune of consecutive record-setting seasons, and the new landing location at the St. Pete Port in the heart of the Innovation District will offer riders increased parking and access to some of St. Pete’s most exciting destinations,” said an HMS Ferries spokesperson in a statement. “We look forward to another successful year onboard the Cross-Bay Ferry.”