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Water Taxi Funding to Come Back to BOCC

BRADENTON – The Manatee County Tourist Development Council has approved a funding recommendation of $950,000 for the construction of two pontoon ferry boats for the future Manatee County water taxi service.

In early October, Manatee County Commissioners approved an initial $700,000 for the design and build of two pontoon boats for the county's future water taxi service. On November 4, Executive Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau Elliott Falcione sought a recommendation from the Tourist Development Council for the pontoons’ construction funding of up to $950,000. Falcione explained to TDC members that although costs may ultimately come under the requested amount, approval from the BOCC will provide room for any higher than anticipated costs for the construction of the two pontoon boats.

A Florida-based boat builder will be contracted by the county to build the two 50ft, 49-50 passenger pontoon vessels. The boats will provide both residents and tourists with water taxi service from the mainland to the island. A timeline for the vessels’ completed construction is unknown, however, due to the possibility of supply chain delays.

Manatee County would own the pontoon boats but would have the vessels managed and operated by a Clearwater-based ferry company. Although a contract has not yet been signed, Falcione stated the county was "on the cusp" of an agreement with Clearwater Ferry, a ferry company that has been doing business in Clearwater since 2015.

The county attorney's office was still working on draft interlocal agreements for the three cities of Bradenton, Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria as of the November 4 TDC meeting, but Falcione said those drafts were expected to be completed in the near future.

While an exact launch date for the water taxi service has not yet been set, the county anticipates the water taxi will initially begin running on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 10:30 am- 9:30 pm. A one-way pass is projected to be $8 per adult, with an all-day "hopper pass" running about $10. Children and Seniors will have reduced rates.

Falcione told TDC members that the county is open to the possibility of running the ferries for more days than are currently planned, even daily, depending on demand.

The urban core will provide the day dock for the vessels in the city of Bradenton just east of the Green Bridge. The boats will dock each night, at the Twin Dolphin Marina on the west side of the Green Bridge. The water taxis will travel from Bradenton’s downtown riverfront out to Anna Maria Island’s City Pier, then to Anna Maria’s Bridge Street Pier, before sailing south to its last stop at the Coquina boat launch, before venturing a route back along the same stopping points on its return loop to the mainland. The two pontoons will run concurrently.

The county is also working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to survey the hospitality industry to calculate the best way to utilize the water taxi for the island’s hospitality and service workers. The county intends to explore whether a service slot in the water taxi’s schedule dedicated to delivering employees from the mainland to the island–and back–might provide the benefit of decreased causeway and bridge vehicular traffic. Falcione suggested the county may even consider a free taxi service specifically to encourage employees to utilize the ferries.

The county is exploring several other funding sources to support the service but has identified tourism tax revenue and anticipated revenues from the county's operation of the Coquina Beach Market, as consistent funding sources. Once the water taxi service has been up and running for about a year, the county could also potentially qualify for state or federal grant money, Falcione said.

The TDC’s recommendation of "up to" $950,000 of tourist bed-tax money for the construction of the pontoon vessels will now go before the county commission for approval.


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