The Clearwater City Council voted Thursday to approve a resolution supporting the establishment of a commercial aerial transit system.
Clearwater City Council members voted 4-1 to support a gondola-like system to transport people around Tampa Bay.
“This would be the first commercial test of what could be a regional system of transportation, possibly taking one-third of the cars off the road,” Council member Bob Cundiff said. “It’s an elevated system using solar power and magnetic levitation for propulsion.”
Cundiff introduced the resolution Feb. 3 during a workshop.
The resolution with BeachTran Clearwater LLC, the company behind the project, does not financially commit the city of Clearwater or allocate city staff time towards it.
During Thursday’s meeting, Cundiff also presented a BeachTran video with renderings of multiple stops throughout Tampa Bay.
“I just wanted to reiterate that we’re not asking for an endorsement here, but an encouragement for BeachTran to continue its work, its planning. We’re not asking for a public-private partnership,” Cundiff said. “This is not a proposal for a system.
“It is an idea for a system that could be — when the time comes for us to vote on various proposals — this will give them the encouragement that they need. Also, for their vendor, who is looking for a place to start to add the first commercial system in the United States.”
BeachTran wants to work with California-based vendor skyTran Inc. on the project.
The electric pods for BeachTran’s plan would hold four people, BeachTran founder Tom Nocera said during the public comment portion.
Phase 1 of the project would build elevated transportation with stops throughout Clearwater, including the downtown area, Island Estates, Pier 60 and Clearwater Beach.
“We were hopeful that [skyTran’s] technology would advance in time for us to have spades in the ground before next year’s Super Bowl. That’s not going to be possible,” Nocera said. “However, we think that Clearwater can be positioned to have a fantastic system that will put Clearwater on the map for something very positive in the near future.
“I can’t say right now that many of you will still be on the City Council by the time this comes before the City Council for an approval. However, the groundwork that you’re doing by this small step will help pave the way for whoever is sitting in your seats in the future.”
Nocera said skyTran is looking to relocate its headquarters from California to either Florida or Texas. The company will need 70 acres for a test track, Nocera said.
Cundiff also mentioned several municipalities throughout Tampa Bay that have expressed interest in a commercial aerial transit system.
“There are many other places that are interested in this system,” Cundiff said. “Oldsmar has already passed a resolution similar to this, as has Pasco County.”
Phase 2 of the project would extend the system to Tampa and St. Petersburg, including a station at Tropicana Field.
According to Cundiff, crews will be able to build stops at hotels or “other facilities.”
Cunfiff said several other places are developing commercial aerial transit systems, including Abu Dhabi, China, India and Israel.
“We can learn from their development as well,” Cundiff said.
Several council members expressed their support.
“I’m fine with this resolution. I mean if this is something that can be actually developed and implemented, it will be interesting to see,” Council member Hoyt Hamilton said. “I’m not sure it will be in my lifetime because if you said all the other locations India and Abu Dhabi and everything are going to get them before us, we’ll have a pretty good knowledge at that point whether or not A.) you know just how effective they are. B.) I don’t know how long it takes to build this kind of thing.”
Hamilton guessed it would take at least two years of construction work for Phase 1 of the project in Clearwater.
However, because other places have definitive plans to build commercial aerial transit systems, Hamilton estimated it would be at least 10 years until a project like BeachTran’s could actually become a reality.
“This resolution, it’s a feel-good thing,” Hamilton said. “It doesn’t commit us to anything. It doesn’t cost us any money, so what the heck?”
Mayor George Cretekos cast the lone dissenting vote against the resolution. Cretekos expressed his concern that approving the measure could prompt other companies to seek resolutions of their own with Clearwater, even if it doesn’t financially commit the city.
“Council, I’m afraid if we do something like this for skyTran, then we’re going to have every other business that’s a startup or whatever wanting to at least say, ‘well, the city of Clearwater is supporting us,’” Cretekos said. “We’re not supporting it, but that’s what they’re going to say.”
Cretekos said he wanted to see a more general resolution on aerial transport and leave out specific vendors.
Council member David Allbritton disagreed with Cretekos.
“This is a local business here in Clearwater that’s working with a national company, skyTran,” Allbritton said. “To Mr. Hamilton’s point, this isn’t something that they have a working model of now, but it is something we had never seen before.”
Allbritton called skyTran’s transit system “futuristic.”
According to Allbritton, skyTran plans to have a working model by the spring in Texas.
“Everybody is behind any kind of thing that can take cars off the road because we have lots of cars on the road,” Allbritton said. “This is environmentally good because it does not create any exhaust because it’s all magnetic.”
Hamilton suggested that BeachTran should remove Tropicana Field from its video with renderings of different stops throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“Given recent developments with the city of St. Pete and the Rays, I’m not sure you’re going to need to be going to Tropicana Field too much longer,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have to see.”