Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ed Turanchik and HMS Global Maritime introduce proposal to bring high-speed ferry rail to Tampa Bay

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Ed Turanchik, Greg Dronkert of HMS Ferries & Mark Fernandez of HMS Ferries at the Tampa Bay Times Forum
  • Ed Turanchik, and Greg Dronkert and Mark Fernandez of HMS Ferries at the Tampa Bay Times Forum
Today, Tampa attorney and public transportation advocate Ed Turanchik along with officials from the Seattle based HMS Ferries laid out their vision of a public-private partnership to initiate Tampa Bay's first commuter, recreational and tourist passenger ferry service. The idea came from studies showing that thousands of commuters who live in South Hillsborough County and drive to MacDill Air Force Base on a daily basis would take a ferry service if it was an option. They presented the plan to an audience at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and followed up with presentations in St. Petersburg and Apollo Beach.

Turanchik said his law firm — Ackerman Senterfitt — decided to get involved after the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) conducted two studies that proved Tampa Bay area citizens had substantial interest in the idea. Turanchik added that a ferry could transform the community and offer a "Wow! factor" (a comment that was repeated by public figures like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn).

"We have a high level of confidence," said Greg Dronkert, the president of the Seattle-based company, on the chances of success. Dronkert said even though the population density is as strong as his group prefers, there is also a "captured market" of riders — a large group of people who would exploit the opportunity to stop driving and take the ferry to work.

Initial costs range between $11.5 -$16 million. Turanchik said he thinks funding could come from Hillsborough County, the state of Florida, and perhaps Pinellas County (he said the service could expand across the Bay, from Tampa to St. Pete).

The plan would be for the vessels to conduct service during the early morning (6-9 a.m.) and afternoon peak hours (4-6 p.m.). The terminal in South County would be built somewhere between Gibsonton and Apollo Beach, and would have a large park and ride lot, providing more than 1,000 parking spaces.

There would also be trams like the ones at Disney World that would pick up ferry passengers at MacDill to take them to various parts of the base.

Under Phase I, operating costs would total $3.5 million annually. Vessels and trams would cost approximately $7 million, while terminals, docks, parking and waterways could range between $4-11 million.

Phase II would call for $4-$8 million for additional vessels, plus periodic major maintenance.

Dronkert said his company has done a lot of projects with local governments, and their standard contract is that they operate public facilities for those governments. He said they're generally paid a fee, with the revenue going to the public.

"We don't normally have a risk," said Drinnkert, adding that Turanchik "sold us on the idea that we'll take the operating risk," and according to their models, he imagines breaking even in year three of the project.

A number of key political and business leaders attended the news conference. Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the plan "exciting," adding, "this has got some sex appeal to it."

"I love this project!" said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who represents the South County area on the board. "We are constantly talking about transportation and how these people can get into town, faster, quicker ... we need to start talking about alternate ways to transport people."

Turanchik said he continues to be in communications with County Administrator Mike Merrill on how to move forward. He said all the work should not be with Hillsborough though, because it's a regionally significant project.

Currently the county considers the project a pending economic proposal. Turanchik thought today was the appropriate time to present the plan to the public.

"I think it's going to come forward when it's ready to come forward," he said, but he couldn't name a specific date for when the plan would begin.

For more information, go to TampaBayHighSpeedFerryProject.com

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