BRADENTON – Among the many agenda items up for discussion at the April 24 Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting, the soon-to-be operational water taxi service was an issue all TDC members were enthusiastic about.
The water taxi service, planned to begin operation in July, will link Anna Maria Island and Bradenton in an effort to alleviate some traffic congestion and parking issues.
Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Elliott Falcione told TDC members last week that everything was going well with the construction of the boats, the three cities that will be on the ferry route and all other aspects of the project.
“The boats are coming along very well and should be complete by mid-to-late June and there will be some branding on them as well,” Falcione said. “We are about 90% there on an operation agreement between Manatee County and the water ferry operator. We hope to bring that to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) in mid-to-late May.”
Falcione said the three cities that will be on the route will be Bradenton, Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach. He said that all three cities have drafted interlocal agreements and the TDC will bring those to the BCC at the same time as the operations agreement.
“If the stars align, and I hope they will, it’s been a long time coming, we’re hoping to start a Friday, Saturday and Sunday service in the month of July,” Falcione said. “Would July Fourth be the perfect scenario, absolutely, and we’re going to try to get there.”
The main focus of the TDC’s discussion was a subsidy to fund the water taxi service for the first year of operation. Falcione said earlier ideas to subsidize the service included the Coquina Beach Market and beach concessions, but those options were no longer on the table. He said the only option for year one would be to use tourism tax proceeds.
Falcione asked the TDC for a recommendation of $400,000 to carry the service for the first year, as well as $25,000 for marketing efforts. After the first year, he said they would look into grant opportunities and other funding sources so the program could ween off of the tourism tax funding. The $400,000 is to fill the gap between projected first-year total operating costs and first-year income from paid water taxi rider fares, which will be in the $8 to $10 range per rider, depending on whether it is a one-way trip or a hopper pass that would be good for the day. Plans are still in place for Island workers to use the service for free to get to and from work, which could help with parking issues.
Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown moved to recommend the $425,000 subsidy as discussed, and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover-Bryant seconded. The motion was passed unanimously and will be presented to the BCC later this month.