Funding for water taxis will go to BOCC

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BRADENTON – The Manatee County Tourism Development Board has approved a $950,000 funding recommendation for the construction of two pontoon boats for Manatee County’s future water taxi service.

In early October, Manatee County Commissioners approved an initial $700,000 for the design and construction of two pontoon boats for the county’s future water taxi service. On Nov. 4, Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Elliott Falcione sought a recommendation from the Tourism Development Board for pontoon construction funding of up to $950,000. Falcione explained to TDC members that while the costs may ultimately be lower than the requested amount, the BOCC’s approval will leave room for higher than expected costs for the construction of the two pontoon boats.

A Florida-based boatbuilder will be contracted by the county to build the two 50-foot, 49-50 passenger pontoons. The boats will provide residents and tourists with water taxi service from the mainland to the island. A timeline for the completed construction of the ships is however unknown 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 yet to be signed, Falcione said the county is “close” to reaching 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 towns of Bradenton, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria at the Nov. 4 TDC meeting, but Falcione said those drafts should be completed in the near future. .

Although an exact launch date for the water taxi service has yet to be set, the county anticipates that the water taxi will initially begin operating Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. A one-way pass should cost $8 per adult, with an “all-day pass” around $10. Children and seniors will benefit from reduced rates.

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

The Urban Core will provide the daytime dock for vessels in the Town of Bradenton just east of the Green Bridge. Boats will dock each night at the Twin Dolphin Marina on the west side of the Green Bridge. Water taxis will travel from the riverside of downtown Bradenton to the town pier at Anna Maria Island, then to Anna Maria’s Bridge Street pier, before sailing south to its final stop at the Coquina boat launch, before venturing on a return route along the same stopping points on its loop back to the mainland. The two pontoons will circulate simultaneously.

The county is also working with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to survey the hospitality industry to calculate how best to use the water taxi for hospitality and service workers on the island. The county intends to explore whether a service slot in the water taxi schedule dedicated to delivering employees from the mainland to the island – and back – could offer the benefit of reducing vehicle traffic on the roadway and the bridge. Falcione suggested the county might even consider free taxi service specifically to encourage employees to use the ferries.

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

The TDC’s recommendation of “up to” $950,000 tourist tax for the construction of the pontoons will now go to the county commission for approval.

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