Photo: Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wants ferry service across Tampa Bay.
Southwest Florida Roundup
Ferry service across Tampa Bay
The bay area looks to ferry service as part of its transportation picture.
Last fall, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman pitched a plan for a winter ferry service across Tampa Bay. Under his proposal, a 149-passenger vessel would make multiple daily round-trips between the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The ferry would pick up and drop off passengers on the St. Petersburg bayfront near the Museum of Fine Arts and in Tampa at the Tampa Convention Center — each within walking distance of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. A one-way ride would take 50 minutes, with fares to be determined.
While the initial proposal envisions just winter service, others hope ferries eventually play a bigger role. Kent Bailey, local chapter chairman for the Sierra Club, called it an important first step toward developing a regional mass transportation system.
Kriseman says the defeat of a public transit initiative in Pinellas County in 2014 highlighted the need for new alternatives “to get people out of their cars, reduce our carbon footprint and be more sustainable.” Kriseman has since been trying to line up $1.4 million in public support to pay for a sixmonth test-run of the ferry service. If he’s successful, the pilot project will launch in mid-October and last through mid-April 2017, according to Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based HMS Ferries, the vessel’s provider.
As of a month ago, the St. Petersburg City Council and the Hillsborough and Pinellas County commissions each had pledged $350,000. Kriseman is pressing Tampa for a similar commitment. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who met with Kriseman, says he is open to the idea but wants more financial details.
Meanwhile, a private nonprofit group called Tampa Bay Citizens for High Speed Ferries is trying to gather financial and political support for a commuter ferry that initially would link the southern areas of Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base.
Publix President Todd Jones will become CEO after Ed Crenshaw retires in April. Crenshaw will remain a member of Publix’s board of directors and succeed Charlie Jenkins Jr. As chairman.
University Park-based restaurant chain First Watch promoted Chris Tomasso to president from chief marketing officer.
Longtime JLL executive Kurt Keaton joined Franklin Street in Tampa as president of its real estate and management services divisions.
Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac was elected chair of the Manatee County Port Authority, succeeding Jones Carol Whitmore.
Third-generation Plant City strawberry farmer Gary Wishnatzki has joined with mechanical engineer Bob Pitzer to create Harvest CROO Robotics. The company is developing a machine that moves autonomously through strawberry fields, doing the work of human pickers. Its patent-pending concept involves a picking wheel that uses mechanical claws to quickly pluck ripe berries from plants and set them aside for packaging. Wishnatzki, who owns Plant City-based Wish Farms, says the machine is still at the prototype stage, but he expects to begin production by early 2018. “Every developed country that grows strawberries is looking for an automated solution” to harvesting the berries, he says.
ESTERO — Car rental company Hertz says a previously announced plan to spin off its equipment rental business will be completed by mid-2016.
FORT MYERS — Radiation therapy provider 21st Century Oncology agreed to pay the federal government a $20-million fine to settle claims that it billed Medicare and Tricare for cancer tests that were not medically necessary. R+L Global Logistics plans to create 80 jobs over the next three years. The Ocalabased transportation company, which recently moved to a 27,000-sq.- ft. Facility in Island Park Center, has nearly 90 local employees.
LAKELAND — The Florida Polytechnic University board of trustees voted to name the university’s campus after former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, who played a key role in establishing the school in 2012.
MANATEE COUNTY — Miami-based Lennar plans to build about 2,000 homes on a 1,400-acre tract it purchased for $38 million from Schroeder- Manatee Ranch.
PLANT CITY — Michiganbased Gordon Food Service plans to add 100 jobs as part of a 160,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its local food distribution center.
SARASOTA COUNTY — Grocery chain Whole Foods Market plans to open a store near University Town Center mall in summer 2017. Core Development and Apogee Realty Advisors want the county’s approval to build a $200-million project with condos, retail and offices on a 31-acre tract near Sarasota Square Mall.
ST. PETERSBURG — Tropic Ocean Airways began offering scheduled seaplane service between Albert Whitted Airport downtown and Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Digital creative agency Big Sea combined with Think- Tank to form what it says is the city’s biggest marketing and design firm.
TAMPA — Risk advisory and insurance brokerage firm Willis Group, based in London, plans to create about 160 jobs at a new North American operations center. The company will receive $785,000 in state and local incentives. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of at least $54,000. A joint venture between Miami-based Banyan Street Capital and Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management bought the 42-story Bank of America Plaza from MetLife for $195 million, the biggest office building purchase in Tampa’s history, according to trade journal Real Estate Alert.
Tampa-based Amalie Oil bought a 42-acre lubricant blending and packaging facility at the Port of North Charleston in South Carolina from Delfin Group USA for an undisclosed amount.
Deep-sea salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration sold part of its business to Monaco Financial for $21 million. Odyssey kept a 21% stake in any future proceeds from hauls but sold half of its interest in Neptune Minerals as well as its corporate offices in Tampa. Florida Produce presented a plan to Cuban officials seeking approval to open a warehouse distribution facility in a free zone outside Havana. The University of South Florida banned tobacco use at its main campus. The Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City awarded a $150,000 grant to the University of Tampa and a group of entrepreneurship experts to assess the region’s startup ecosystem.
Employee-leasing firm A1HR will become a division of West Palm Beachbased Oasis Outsourcing under a new deal between the two companies. Financial terms were not disclosed.
A 128-room Marriott Courtyard hotel will be built on a two-acre tract at Citrus Park Crossings, a planned mixed-use development near the Veterans Expressway.