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Boat owners push back at marina redevelopment plan

Brian Hartz

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St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

Owners of small vessels berthed at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina are raising concerns about the city’s proposed plan to redevelop the amenity via a public-private partnership with Safe Harbor Development, a Nashville-based company that wants to eliminate slips for boats under 30 feet in length.

Kyle Lainius and Michael Reed, both residents of St. Petersburg, said the $30 million project would price out working- and middle-class boaters and destroy precious green space along the city’s waterfront in the name of generating profits for a non-local firm that lacks experience in developing saltwater marinas.

“For somebody like Kyle who’s a young guy with a wife, and they’re trying to have a family, they boat in St. Pete and have aspirations to get a bigger boat and sail with their family,” Reed said, “but this is the kind of thing that’s going to push people like him out.”

Lainius, 36, works as a property manager in St. Pete and told the Catalyst he has an 18-foot Bayliner Buccaneer sailboat berthed at the marina.

“Right now, the smallest slip size is 22 feet,” Lainius said. “To get a 22-foot slip as a St. Pete resident is about $100 a month. So I was like, ‘OK, I can afford that.’ But what [Safe Harbor Development] is saying is, ‘We’re gonna have the minimum slip size be 30 feet,’ but at the same time they’re saying the current 30-foot slip is underpriced, so the rates on that are going to go up. Even if I were to get a 30-foot slip now, I’d be paying $300 or something like that, so if they are going to boost up the price, it could potentially quadruple for someone with a boat my size.”

According to current rates published on the city’s website, the monthly fee for a 30-foot slip, including tax, ranges from $228 to $376.38.

Under Safe Harbor Development’s marina redevelopment plan, the entrance to Demens Landing would be upgraded.

While Lainius and Reed gave credit to city development staff and Safe Harbor Development for hosting an extensive March 2 meeting via Zoom to provide an overview of the project and solicit public feedback, they said the issue is a much bigger deal than the city is making it out to be, and any long-term lease agreement with Safe Harbor Development should be decided via public referendum, not a city council vote.

“Why are we taking a municipal marina, which is supposed to offer services to various income levels, and handing it over to a private company whose goal is to maximize revenue?” Reed said. “They’ve already stated that they’re going to raise rents 10 percent every year for the first five years.”

The St. Petersburg Municipal Marina is adjacent to the St. Pete Pier and has about 660 boat slips, including the 104-slip St. Petersburg Yacht Club in its Central Basin, and the 74-slip Vinoy Marina in its North Basin. It’s owned by the city of St. Petersburg, which would retain ownership of the assets in a public-private partnership. However, the redevelopment plan would not apply to the yacht club and Vinoy slips, which are operated independently.

City officials, including Mayor Rick Kriseman and Councilmember Darden Rice, have said the marina’s infrastructure is dated and in need of repair or replacement. Their concerns are supported by Moffatt & Nichol, a global infrastructure advisory firm, which in 2017 submitted a condition plan and master plan for the marina. The Moffatt & Nichol plan called for a phased replacement of the marina’s docks, walkways, finger piers, utility systems and auxiliary support facilities, with a budget of approximately $50 million.

Reed said that based on Safe Harbor Development’s portfolio of work, he doesn’t believe the company is up to the task and the city should be considering the three other bids that were submitted for the redevelopment project. However, Safe Harbor Development was the only one of the four that proposed paying any base rent for the right to lease and manage the marina property. (The company has proposed a base rent of $250,000 per year plus 25 percent of gross marina revenue.)

“They only have a handful of marinas on inland lakes and waterways, no saltwater experience,” Reed said, “and they build things like car washes and amusement park rides. If you look at their marinas, the scope of rebuilding entire St. Pete Municipal Marina is very, very large compared to the types of projects that they’ve done.”

St. Petersburg Municipal Marina’s South Basin

During the March 2 meeting, Joe Zeoli, the city’s managing director of administration and finance, said it’s long past time to overhaul the aging waterfront amenity.

“The existing marina infrastructure has been in place for quite a long time,” he said. “In the Central Yacht Basin, it’s coming up on 58 years. In the South Yacht Basin, [it’s] a little bit newer, most of that was 1977 — that’s still 44 years ago, except for Dock 5, which is substantially newer. While the systems have been regularly maintained, they are rapidly reaching the end of their service life.”

Also at issue is whether to open up the marina docks to people who don’t own boats. Safe Harbor Development President Darby Campbell, speaking at the March 2 meeting, acknowledged that his company specializes in projects that are aimed at “entertaining folks” and that its plan is actually closely aligned with the vision put forth in the Moffatt & Nichol master plan.

“We think their plan is very close to the way it should be,” he said, adding that, considering the marina’s close proximity to the new St. Pete Pier, the opportunity seems “like the perfect marriage to be able to provide the city with access to the marina and still provide a great experience for the boating public. Our goal with all of our marinas is to give folks who might not own a boat a way to get to the water and enjoy the water, and this was a great way to do that.”

Campbell also seemed to indicate that some owners of smaller boats might have to seek other accommodations for the vessels.

“Right now,” he said, “the marina has got a lot of small slips; they’re not laid out very efficiently; some have covers, some don’t; and boats are changing over time. The power requirement is a big part of this. The power is not nearly adequate, and the boat slips are the wrong sizes. While we may be reducing the capacity or the number of slips, we’re increasing the size of the slips, so you’re gaining a lot more footage, you’re reducing the number of 20-foot slips that aren’t as useful anymore. Very few 20-foot boats are out in the bay.”

The St. Petersburg Sailing Center, located in the marina’s South Basin, has an entire fleet of 18-foot club boats that it allows its members to sail out into Tampa Bay as long as they pay the annual membership fee and pass a basic skills and knowledge test.

“It just grates on me to no end, but I feel like the little guy is getting screwed over,” Reed said. “Anybody who dreams of having a boat in the marina, they’re going to get pushed out. [Safe Harbor Development] wants to make all big slips. They’re adding a couple of slips for mega-yachts. It just doesn’t feel like St. Pete.”

City Councilmember Gina Driscoll, whose district includes the marina, said the project’s details warrant a closer look.

“I’ve heard from many residents who have concerns about the redevelopment of the marina,” she wrote in an email to the Catalyst, “raising serious questions regarding affordability and the loss of park space. If we truly want a municipal marina that is for everyone, we must listen to what the residents want and create a plan that we can all embrace.”

Zeoli said the city’s Public Service and Infrastructure Committee is set to meet on April 8 and its agenda includes a discussion of the marina redevelopment plan. Campbell will be in attendance at that meeting, he added, and will answer questions raised in the March 2 call related to the size and pricing of boat slips. Zeoli also said that answers to some questions and concerns would be posted on the city’s website by the end of the week, if not sooner. As well, he said the proposed lease agreement with Safe Harbor Development would be sent to city council for their review by Friday.

“We definitely listened to the users,” he said, “especially the ones who said, ‘Hey, we want to make sure there are opportunities for small boats in the marina.’ Safe Harbor Development, they’re looking at their plan and seeing how they can modify some of the slips that are being proposed. Safe Harbor and the city agree that we do not want to be displacing boaters who are there currently. That’s an important element. We want to take care of the folks we have today and still make sure we are ready for tomorrow.”

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dennis Lopez

    March 24, 2021at3:39 pm

    It would be patently unfair to the regular guy, middle-class family boat owners – yes the 20 footers and such,For them to lose the opportunity to keep their boats at this marina if it is revamped.

    Certainly, a section of the marina could be designed for boats say for example 25 feet and under or 23 feet and under, whatever. Without any power hookups etc. to accommodate those people. To do otherwise is simply turning a blind eye on Pinellas County residents who don’t own yachts. That would be patently unfair.

  2. Avatar

    Michael Baptista

    March 24, 2021at4:13 pm

    Save our city. Quit this millionaire sell out. Jeez

  3. Avatar

    Mike

    March 24, 2021at6:41 pm

    Welcome to the free market and a city with growing aspirations. Would you like to have a boat slip in Miami, Charleston, maybe NYC for the budget price of $100. I bet, and good luck! Silly article.

  4. Amy Baxter

    Amy Baxter

    March 24, 2021at9:07 pm

    The plan and the lease agreement horrible! It also takes green space from Demen’s Landing for more marina parking spots and takes away public parking spots for private marina parking. It is a complete sellout from the Mayor to move municipal services to a private company.

  5. Avatar

    George H Harasz

    March 25, 2021at6:35 am

    Demens Landing, one of the spots where it’s mostly local folks hanging out. can’t have that now can we? Got to bring in that big money from up north pay those boat slip rental fees with their yachts.

  6. Avatar

    Pete Wakker

    March 25, 2021at9:19 am

    How horrible and idea. What happened to all the money they’ve collected over the last 44 years? oh I bet it was spent on some kind of special project but not reinvested into the marina/maintenance. Government malfeasance! I sure hope the citizens will rise up. Here’s an idea. Create a 503c with two boards of directors one for operating and one for finance. What you don’t need in my opinion is the government selling out the people because you can be damn sure somebody’s getting dark money.

  7. Avatar

    Chuck Nolan

    March 25, 2021at4:50 pm

    The city has an ethical responsibility to the CITIZENS of St. Pete to maintain the city’s assets for the CITIZENS. Selling out to a for-profit company because they have not maintained properly using the excess fees over the years is no excuse to abdicate their responsibility.

  8. Avatar

    Jonathon Micklitsch

    March 25, 2021at6:16 pm

    The city has a responsibility to the tax paying residents to do what’s best for us. If /the City/ would have stuck to the original pier budget the city could handle the project on it’s own. No matter what keep it local and do what’s right. The city needs to step up and update the docks to accommodate boat sizes as they have been.

  9. Avatar

    Kelly

    March 30, 2021at8:35 am

    It’s really sad to see that ur city pushing out the very residents that have built it up and made it great. What happened to wanting to make St. Petersburg a family and accessible city “for everyone”?? This is pushing residents farther and farther away and taking gentrification to dangerous levels. Please make room for your citizens in every aspect!!

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