SRIA report: Ferry service in works, $6-million price tag

By Shelby Smithey…

The Santa Rosa Island Authority Board met Wednesday to hear a variety of reports, as well as to discuss future plans for a ferry service that would transport passengers from Pensacola to Fort Pickens.

Matt Mooneyham, Escambia County project manager, gave an update on the renovations and improvements underway on Pensacola Beach. Addressed first in Mooneyham’s report was the renovation of the Bob Sikes Toll Plaza. The county is working with the engineering and design consulting company Atkins to renovate the facility’s infrastructure and to install an electronic toll and cash collection system.

The county is also looking for ways to improve the pedestrian crosswalks, signage and bike paths and that they were interested in securing funding for these projects. Tammy Bohannon, SRIA treasurer, addressed the possible confusion pedestrians may have about the crosswalks, related to their designation. Mooneyham said that the county is researching ways to improve the crosswalks, by possibly using motion sensor lights and elevation to make them safer.

Buck Lee, SRIA Executive Director, gave an update on a plan for a ferry service that would cost $6 million and would be funded by BP. The ferry would have three stops and would take passengers from downtown Pensacola to Fort Pickens and Pensacola Beach. From Fort Pickens, passengers would have the ability to take a shuttle or rent bikes to explore the park. The ferry service would possibly run May through September.

E.W. Bullock, a local advertising and public relations firm, gave a report and update on bed tax revenue. A bed tax is a surcharge added to short-term hotel accommodations. In May, bed tax revenue exceeded $700,000, and totaled $1.6 million in June. This was an increase of 12.8% since the last fiscal year.

Earned media, publicity gained through efforts besides advertising, was also discussed. Pensacola Beach had a total of more than $900,000 in earned media since May. The report detailed how the Blue Angels Air Show had the biggest earned media impact on revenue. In total, 45 news articles were written about the Blue Angels weekend, including stories on and the Huffington Post. This earned media garnered more than $185,000 in revenue.

Last month, “Visit Pensacola Beach” Facebook advertisements had a total of 2.2 million impressions. The board brought up the topic of how to target “one-tank travelers” which are people who live close enough to Pensacola Beach to drive there with one tank of gas.

Next, Rod Lewis, director of the HAAS Center for Business Research and Economic Development, gave a presentation on the economic impact of the Blue Angels Air Show. Employees at the HAAS Center surveyed 672 people during the Blue Angels Air Show to gather these results. According to Lewis, 40 percent of those surveyed were from out of town, and if asked if they would ever consider returning, 92 percent said that they would.

Lewis also said that Blue Angels weekend is a very “deep South event” with 65 percent of people surveyed being from Florida, and the rest being from nearby states including Alabama and Louisiana. Even though Fourth of July weekend suggested slightly higher traffic patterns over any other weekend in the summer, Blue Angel weekend came in a close second. The total car count for Blue Angels was significantly higher than the HAAS Center had originally projected by nearly 1,400.

Lewis then gave many statistics on visitor spending calculations from the Blue Angels weekend, which totaled $2.1 million in spending. Net new spending came to be $1.7 million for the weekend. In total, Lewis estimated that the Blue Angels Air Show had a $2.4 million economic impact in Escambia County.