Ferry to Holmes Beach doesn’t float with commissioners

Holmes Beach Tampa Bay ferry boat
A boat like this is what Tampa Bay Ferry operator Corey Hubbard hopes to use to bring visitors to Holmes Beach from Fort DeSoto. - Submitted | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners have a lot of misgivings about a proposal from Corey Hubbard with Tampa Bay Ferry to offer service to the Island city, but they are willing to talk.

Commissioner Carol Soustek asked to have the issue placed on a future work session after a presentation by Hubbard during a recent commission meeting. This was the second time Hubbard has appeared before commissioners on the issue.

“I’m willing to talk about it,” Soustek said. “We need to look at alternatives to the traffic.”

Hubbard proposes bringing a ferry from Fort DeSoto to a dock at the Waterline Marina Resort in Holmes Beach, carrying carless passengers to the commercial heart of the city. The primary stumbling block commissioners have with the idea is a lack of parking in an area where parking spaces are already at a premium. If Hubbard can secure formal parking agreements with local business owners, Soustek thinks some of the commissioners’ concerns could be alleviated.

Holmes Beach ferry Corey Hubbard
Corey Hubbard with Tampa Bay Ferry asks commissioners to consider allowing a passenger ferry service from Fort DeSoto to the Waterline Marina Resort in Holmes Beach. – Kristin Swain | Sun

For her part, Hubbard argues that parking is unnecessary for the ferry. She said her staff would make sure that ferry passengers didn’t park at surrounding businesses and would encourage people coming to the ferry on the Island to take public transportation, cycle to the site or walk.

“I think their concerns are legitimate,” Hubbard said, adding that she’s working to find solutions backed by research to help clarify the service she wants to offer.

She said Waterline management and surrounding businesses are supportive of the effort, but leasing parking spaces remains an issue. She suggested a trial run for the ferry service, an idea that intrigued commissioners.

One part of her presentation that didn’t sit well with city leaders was a statement that $1.5 million of the funds promised to the effort to rebuild the Anna Maria City Pier require the addition of a ferry terminal at that location. While the comment left Holmes Beach commissioners questioning two ferry terminals so close together, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy denied that one would be required at the city pier.

“There’s no reference to a ferry or a water taxi dock in our funding agreement with the county and the Tourist Development Council,” Murphy said. “And there’s no reference to a ferry or water taxi in our state appropriations request. What Ms. Hubbard said about our funding obligations is both untrue and ridiculous.”

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson and Chief Bill Tokajer, the city’s traffic engineer, also weren’t thrilled by the idea of the ferry.

Johnson said he fears the ferry will add more traffic congestion to the Island than it takes away. He said he’d like the parking issues addressed by Hubbard along with a plan demonstrating who the service targets as passengers prior to further discussions.

Before city leaders seriously consider adding a ferry service, Tokajer suggested traveling to a nearby city that has a similar service to see what issues arose and if it does alleviate vehicular traffic.

For his part, Johnson said, “Not interested. Not now.”