As car-less options to Anna Maria Island grow in popularity, a ferry operator headquartered in Madeira Beach is lobbying to establish a link with a landing spot in Holmes Beach.
Six months after receiving a cool reception to the idea, Corey Hubbard of Tampa Bay Ferry & Taxi was back March 13 to address the Holmes Beach commission meeting and remind officials of the option she and her father, Capt. Mark Hubbard, want to provide.
“Everyone I speak to loves this island but they hate the traffic,” she said. “We never want to be in a situation where we are punishing our visitors because of bad infrastructure.”
Hubbard, a fourth-generation ferry operator whose family business dates to 1928, noted it takes one hour to drive to Anna Maria Island from the St. Pete area even without traffic.
“Folks in my community would kill for the opportunity to get down to AMI without fighting the Bradenton traffic and the island traffic once over the bridge,” Hubbard said. “These trips clog the roads and exacerbate parking issues on the island. A ferry connection would alleviate this congestion.”
The ferry would dock at Waterline Marina Resort, 5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, Hubbard said. Hubbard said the Waterline location would serve the downtown area.
General manager Sandy Zinck confirmed Waterline’s interest.
“We definitely believe there’s a need for ferry-type service to the island and are interested in seeing that move forward should island officials approve it,” Zinck said.
The idea piqued interest at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, too.
“I have spoken to Corey and indicated to her we’re interested in anything that would assist with transportation,” said Terri Kinder, chamber president, in a phone interview with The Islander.
Commissioners seemed more receptive to the idea than in September 2017, when they cited parking as a major issue.
Commissioner Carol Soustek said she would prefer the ferry provide service to the other island cities as well. She expressed interest in allowing the Hubbards to show what they can do during a pilot program.
“It’s an alternative that would be good for us to use,” Soustek said. “I’m OK with a pilot program.”
Holmes Beach is being asked to waive parking requirements for waterborne transportation as the ferry will service guests of the resort and passengers who arrive by foot, car or trolley. The pilot program would determine whether the ferry places too much pressure on Waterline’s parking.
“We want to make it clear this operation is not a park-and-ride, but is a walk-up access point,” Hubbard said.
The Hubbards propose boarding up to 49 people at the resort at $30 a head at 9 a.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, arriving at Fort De Soto in about 40 minutes and later embarking for Egmont Key. The ferry would return to Holmes Beach at 4 p.m.
Capt. Hubbard has been trying since 2013 to establish ferry service to Anna Maria Island after being encouraged at the time by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and island officials and business owners.
If Holmes Beach approves, the pilot program could be launched within a week, Hubbard said.
“Despite our background as a pleasure cruise operator, this ferry route is undeniably an opportunity to alleviate congestion and give visitors and residents an option to travel without sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic,” said Corey Hubbard.
But Hubbard misspoke at the meeting when she claimed the Anna Maria City Pier, when rebuilt, would be required to include docks for a ferry.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy was quick to point out Hubbard’s error the day after the meeting.
The interlocal agreement sending $1.5 million in Manatee County Tourist Development Council funds to the pier project does not stipulate a ferry dock/landing is required, Murphy said.
“TDC members, when discussing the project, mentioned a ferry landing would be nice to have, but funding is not contingent on that amenity,” according to Manatee County public information officer Nick Azzara.
Hubbard asked for a slot at a work session to address parking concerns, economic impacts and ways to prevent potential parking abuse.
Commission Chair Judy Titsworth promised to include the ferry proposal on an agenda as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, another new ferry expected to start service to Bradenton Beach is on hold. Sherman Baldwin of Paradise Boat Tours plans to ferry passengers from the Historic Bridge Street Pier to downtown Bradenton and Sarasota once docking issues are resolved in Bradenton Beach.
The commission will next meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.