TAMPA — Bob Buckhorn has hopped on board the political effort to bring back the CrossBay Ferry.
Tampa’s mayor will recommend to the City Council at its July 26 meeting that it kick in the city’s $150,000 share to fund the ferry’s return in November.
The ferry service launched in November 2016, spearheaded by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. During its initial run, the Pinellas and Hillsborough county commissions and the Tampa and St. Petersburg city councils each contributed $350,000.
Buckhorn has been the most skeptical of the region’s officials about the ferry. He has said the private operator should be able to make it work without a public subsidy.
He still believes that.
"I don’t know if I would call it a mode of transportation," Buckhorn said Thursday. "It’s not going to take a lot of cars off the road, but it does bring bodies to our urban core."
The ferry would dock near the Convention Center in Tampa. In St. Petersburg, it will dock in the North Vinoy Basin.
Kriseman has led the effort to bring it back and called Buckhorn several times in recent weeks.
"He had some deadlines on his end so he could move forward," Buckhorn said. "I want to be helpful to him and for him."
Kriseman didn’t respond to a request for comment, but theSt. Petersburg City Council and Hillsborough County Commission have already signed off on the funding.
The last agency who needs to approve it is the Pinellas County Commission, which will consider the request at its July 17 meeting.
In its 2016-2017 run, the ferry sold more than 37,000 tickets and proved most popular on weekends. A survey showed two-thirds of riders took it for recreation. When Kriseman addressed Hillsborough commissioners last month, he acknowledged those facts but said research also has shown that the economic impact was $1.6 million. About 75 percent of passengers dined out and 30 percent visited a museum, he said.
"That’s money spent in our two communities that might not have otherwise been spent," he told commissioners.
After the $600,000 subsidy contributed by the four government entities, a state Department of Transportation grant will cover the rest of the estimated $747,000 cost.
Seattle’s HMS Ferries will once again provide service.
Under the terms of the proposal, the first $200,000 in revenue generated by the ferry will go to the four governments. The next $200,000 will go to HMS. After that profits are split evenly between the member governments and HMS.
As recently as Monday, Buckhorn had been noncommittal on the ferry, but he said his budget preparation had persuaded him that the city could afford another year. The money would come from the city’s Downtown Community Redevelopment Area, not the general fund.
And he hopes the operators will avoid the miscues of the ferry’s first year when no contingency plans were made for Gasparilla or the College Football playoffs and the ferry didn’t run during those high-profile events.
"Hopefully, since it’s the second time, they’ll have thought these things through," Buckhorn said.