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High speed ferry project picking up speed

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image This map of areas in Hillsborough County lists one of the proposed ferry landings as Fred & Ida Schultz Preserve (fka Port Redwing).

The proposal begins with two catamarans that would run between the Schultz Preserve area and MacDill Air Force Base, with the first anticipated riders being the 5,300 MacDill employees who commute between 25 and 35 miles daily across the Bay.

BY PENNY FLETCHER

A high speed ferry project between South County and the other side of the Bay is receiving attention from several sources, including County Commissioner Sandra Murman and former Commissioner Ed Turanchik.

A public meeting was held June 25 at Hillsborough Community College, and Murman and Turanchik, along with Mark Fernandez representing HMS Ferries Inc., went over details with a room full of interested residents.

The prime location discussed at the meeting was referred to as the Schultz Park, with Murman saying if that location is used for a ferry some of the surrounding area could become a park.

“It could be similar to Simmons Park, maybe have a beach and kayaking, and picnic areas,” she stated. “So residents would have something beautiful they could enjoy even if they don’t use the ferry.”

But because Schultz is listed on county maps not as a park but as the “Fred and Ida Schultz Preserve,” telephone interviews were conducted with both Murman and Turanchik following the meeting.

Murman explained then that “details would have to be worked out in order for the ferry, or a park, to be located there.”

Turanchik, who is with Akerman Senterfitt, the legal council for HMS Ferries Inc., added that Southwest Florida Water Management Company has recently done restoration at that area, which is just south of the portion of the Bay known as The Kitchen because of its good fishing.

“We haven’t decided on a location yet,” he said. “We’re looking at several places in that area, near Port Redwing.”

The area now designated as the preserve was considered for a park in 2002 and was part of a study done by the MPO at that time but was purchased by ELAPP instead.

More recent studies by HMS Ferries Inc. and staff at MacDill predict how many cars the ferry would eliminate from roadways.

The proposal begins with two catamarans that would run between the Schultz Preserve area and MacDill Air Force Base, with the first anticipated riders being the 5,300 MacDill employees who commute between 25 and 35 miles daily across the Bay.

“Surveys we’ve performed show the average MacDill employee spends about $245 in transportation costs back and forth to work,” Fernandez said. “The survey shows that 87 percent say they would use it. Eighty-six percent drive alone now so that would get a lot of cars off the roadways.”

HMS Ferries Inc. runs the ferry operations at The Statue of Liberty, and Alcatraz Tours, and has just obtained the contract at Niagara Falls from the 50-year-old company Maid of the Mist, he said. “We move people on the water just like transportation departments move people on land. But this is the first time we’ve agreed to put up the money for the operation costs because we really believe in this project.”

Destinations like The Tampa Bay Rays, Mahaffey Theater, museums, restaurants, and other major attractions and events could provide transportation from the ferry and make the whole Bay Area one attraction, Turanchik said.

The two catamarans would begin the 6-mile straight-across service approximately every 20 minutes from 6-to-9 a.m. and again from 4-to-6 p.m. for MacDill employees, then add to the service as others signed on, Fernandez said.

A third catamaran would be added later for public use if the venture proves profitable, Fernandez said.

Murman and Turanchik said they are already working on that.

“This could be market driven with straight excursion fares, ticket packages, discounts to events, Lightning games and private charters,” Turanchik said.

Surveys presented at the meeting showed that there are 1,750 people in the Riverview/FishHawk area; 1,096 in the Alafia area; and 1,181 in Ruskin and Apollo Beach who would be candidates immediately because of their place of employment.

“It’s an ideal situation for us with so many people leaving from a similar place going to a common destination,” Fernandez said.

Operating costs would be approximately $35 mil a year paid by HMS, he stated. “We’ll probably not take federal funds because of the red tape involved in that. We would rather just work with the state and county,” he said.

The ferries would not carry cars but would carry scooters and wheelchairs and bicycles, Fernandez said.

“Working with major destinations to provide transportation to locations and events could make Tampa Bay a connected destination for all types of tourism,” said Turanchik.

Murman, however, continued to maintain her interest was in developing a park and beach and nature area for local residents as was intended in 2002.

“I want whatever is best for South County. I want people who don’t use the ferry to see benefits as well,” she said.

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