Plans to begin ferry service between downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens are still set for next spring, but have been pushed back a few weeks.
Next March was the original target date to launch the two boats and the triangular routes, but Dan Brown, Superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore, says some of the components of the service are meeting some challenges and delays.
“We’re at this point looking at a startup date probably in mid-May,” Brown said. “To capture the peak recreation season, which generally begins as school gets ready to let out. Mid-May to mid-August is the peak season.”
Some of the other areas of the project, says Brown, are being actively and aggressively pursued, but will benefit from the delay. Those include the docking facilities.
“The City is constructing at the Port of Pensacola, both their waterside docks and their landside facilities, “Brown said. “And their prioritizing the waterside docks so that the boats have a place to park when they get here. And out at Quietwater Beach, the County is working on the planning, design and engineering of their facilities.”
“[We’re] certainly disappointed that they won’t be here for the spring break season, but this gives them extra time to make sure they have all of their ducks in a row,” said Steve Hayes, President of the destination marketing firm Visit Pensacola.
He adds that once up and running, the ferry service will connect people to different areas in the community, for both visitors and residents.
“Imagine that you’re able to come into downtown [Pensacola], maybe spend some time in the Historical District, and then board the ferry and go to Fort Pickens and experience that as well,” Hayes said. “And in the reverse of that is, if you’re a visitor, out at the beach and versus getting into your car and coming in, you can take the ferry in, and explore what we have here.”
The ferry service will feature a pair of 150-passenger boats, now under construction by the Bellingham, Washington-based firm All-American Marine. They remain scheduled for delivery in mid-March.
The cost of the vessels – Pelican Perch and Turtle Runner, are covered by $5.2 million from BP’s settlement of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The money comes through FLAP, the Federal Lands Transportation Program.
Two other aspects of the ferry project are a “concession prospectus” and a Request for Proposals.
“And then ultimately a contract for the concessioner who’s going to be operating the ferry service,” said Brown. “That’s also a fairly robust and process.”
Given the complexity of that process, the winning bidder isn’t expected to be onboard until the time the boats are delivered. And what about the cost to ride on the water? Brown says that’s still up in the air.
“We had a consultant do both a market analysis and then kind of a survey of similar types of services,” Brown said. “It’s looking like about $19 for adults and $12 for kids. And prices for multi-ride ticket packages, group rates, etc.”
Gulf Islands’ Dan Brown was among officials meeting last week to discuss communication strategies. Visit Pensacola’s Steve Hayes says the focus now is getting out the word before the service begins.
“How can we help, not only the community partners but also the Park Service [with] types of messaging to let people know this wonderful amenity will be coming to this area?” said Hayes. “Whether it be through social media, or specific messaging around to media outlets.”
Once begun, the ferry trips will be at a leisurely pace, at 14 miles an hour – about 12 knots. Each voyage is expected to take about 40 minutes.