Commission conditionally approves water ferry service

ferry service permit
This city-owned dock used by the Coast Guard Auxiliary is expected to be used as the ferry service’s Sarasota point of departure and arrival. -Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – The Sarasota City Commission has unanimously approved a conditional city-issued water taxi permit that will allow Sherman Baldwin and Tevatan LLC to operate a water ferry service between Sarasota and the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

The conditional elements of the permit approved Tuesday, Feb. 21, include a requirement that Baldwin acquire sublease rights for a city of Sarasota-owned dock building near Centennial Park and the 10th Street boat ramp. The dock and adjacent city-owned building are leased to the all-volunteer Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla. Baldwin also plans to inquire about subleasing and sharing the sparingly used auxiliary building for use as a lobby area.

Baldwin was scheduled to meet with Sarasota Parking General Manager Mark Lyons this week to discuss the sublease and to further clarify the parking situation. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, Baldwin hopes to begin his ferry service as early as next month. He originally hoped to begin service in mid-February until he encountered unanticipated delays in the permitting process.

“We’re glad to see the permit is underway. There’s still some work that needs to be done, but I’m convinced that it can be handled.”
– Mark Lyons, Sarasota parking general manager

Sarasota’s water taxi permit ordinance was adopted in 2003 but it was never fully implemented until Baldwin submitted his application. This process revealed the need for future refinement of the ordinance and the commission agreed that would be undertaken as a separate and future commission matter.

In accordance with the existing ordinance, further clarification is still needed in regard to parking. The city-owned dock is located next to the Centennial Park public boat ramps and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in an area that contains approximately 900 parking spaces.

ferry permit meeting
Capt. Sherman Baldwin and Parking General Manager Mark Lyons present Baldwin’s ferry taxi plan to Sarasota City Commissioners. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

There is ample room for parking, but the arrival and department point is not within easy walking distance of Main Street and the downtown business and entertainment district.

Baldwin originally hoped to set up shop in the city-owned waterfront complex that includes the Marina Jacks and O’Leary’s Tiki Bar, but that was not to be.

“I wish it was closer to downtown. I would prefer that it be in the heart of the downtown, but there’s challenges trying to get that done,” Lyons said after last week’s meeting.

This means folks who travel to Sarasota from Bradenton Beach and elsewhere on Anna Maria Island will need to utilize the city’s new Gem Car electrical shuttle service, Uber drivers, taxis and other means of alternative transportation to reach their destinations. Lyons said there is also enough space in that location to accommodate larger shuttle buses.

Sarasota commissioners also expressed interest in Uber-like water taxis transporting folks around the waterfront and across the bay to Longboat Key; and Sherman mentioned this as an anticipated second phase of his ferry operations.

When asked about a ferry stop in Longboat Key, Baldwin told the commission this would not be feasible due to the lack of public docking facilities. He said Uber-like water taxis would be a more practical means of accomplishing that goal.

Lyons said he appreciated the fact that Baldwin came to the city with a plan that did not seek financial subsidies.

“Sherman came forward with a full plan. We’re proud to partner with him and help him out where we can. We’re glad to see the permit is underway. There’s still some work that needs to be done, but I’m convinced that it can be handled,” Lyons said.

The Sarasota commissioners touted the ferry service’s potential to create jobs and economic opportunities in addition to serving as an alternative means of travel between Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Sherman said he was happy that his permit was conditionally granted and he expressed no displeasure about the delays incurred. His future plans include expanding the ferry service to include downtown Bradenton as well, which he hopes to do later this year or in 2018.