Construction on Pensacola ferry’s downtown home is underway ahead of spring 2018 launch

Construction on the Pensacola Bay passenger ferry service’s new homeport in downtown Pensacola is currently underway, leading up to the launch of the long-anticipated service by spring 2018.

City of Pensacola officials said this month that the $1 million floating docking facilities to be based at Commendencia Slip adjacent to the Port of Pensacola are currently under construction, with the construction of the $2 million downtown ferry terminal to begin as early as next month.

The city had revealed its final plans to redevelop a vacant parcel at Commendencia Slip as a base for the service in July. Last week, the Pensacola city council awarded the $2 million contract for the ferry terminal building to Pensacola-based Green-Simmons Company. City officials said contract negotiations with the company should wrap up soon so that construction can begin. The ferry terminal was designed by Bullock Tice Associates of Pensacola, while civil engineer ATKINS handled the site work and waterside components of the project.

The “Turtle Runner” ferry catamaran cruises near Fort Pickens prior to its delivery to the National Park Service in 2017. (NPS/Special to The Pulse)

“The City has committed to provide temporary facilities to hit the NPS requested start date of March 15, 2018,” city spokesman Vernon Stewart said Wednesday.

The downtown homeport for the ferry service will house a ticking facility, restrooms, offices, passenger staging areas, and a rain shelter. The two National Park Service ferries will be homeported at the facility. The floating dock is currently being constructed under a separate contract and will be completed and delivered ahead of the landside facility.

Managed by the National Park Service, the ferry system will include two ferries running between downtown Pensacola, the Quietwater Beach/Boardwalk area on Pensacola Beach, and the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Fort Pickens. Construction of the Fort Pickens ferry landing was completed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Escambia County hopes to award a contract for the construction of the Pensacola Beach landing site in December, with construction to begin around the start of 2018.

“Our understanding is that National Parks Service hopes to begin ferry service May 2018,” county spokesman Joy Tsubooka said this week. “We anticipate construction completion in April.”

Renderings of the planned ferry terminal in downtown Pensacola. (Bullock Tice Associates/Special to The Pulse)

Federal park officials have said an additional stop may also be located aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola as Navy officials are currently in the planning process to allow for future ferry connections at the base.

The two 150-seat catamarans that will be used for the ferry service — named Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch by local fourth grade students — arrived in Pensacola in April. However, delays in landside construction and in bidding out the contract for a ferry operator have pushed the service’s opening back to next spring. The Park Service is set to select a concessionaire to operate the ferry service in January. In the meantime, the ferries are currently dry-docked at the Port of Pensacola.

The ferry system will operate at a minimum from March through October each year, with daily service from May through August and weekend-only service from March 15 through May 14 and August 16 through October 31. Each of the system’s three landings will have a minimum of six arrivals and six departures each day. Park officials have said the concessionaire may operate a longer season if warranted.

Pensacola’s downtown ferry terminal will be located at Commendencia Slip near Plaza de Luna. (Bullock Tice Associates/Special to The Pulse)

Built by Washington-based All-American Marine, the ferries feature a climate-controlled enclosed main deck and a shaded upper deck for observation and will be equipped with a snack bar for food and beverage service, a well as restrooms, passenger storage, flat screen TVs and a sound system for on-board interpretation by NPS rangers. The boats will be fully accessible, meeting all ADA standards, and will have bike racks for those wishing to explore Fort Pickens or Santa Rosa Island by bicycle.

Ticket prices for the ferry haven’t yet been finalized, but officials have said the maximum allowable price to be set by concessionaires is $20, with tickets including “hop on, hop off” privileges throughout the day as well as admission to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Officials have previously said discounted tickets will be offered for active military and seniors, and three-day passes will also be available in addition to daily tickets. Children under the age of 3 will ride the ferry for free.