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City officials meet with potential marina developers

Mark Parker



The 660-slip Municipal Marina has reached the end of its service life. Photo by Mark Parker.

Questions regarding a five-year lease agreement for an extensive project estimated to cost over $30 million dominated discourse during the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina redevelopment’s pre-proposal meeting Monday.

About a dozen representatives from at least eight companies joined city officials and Marina stakeholders – including Dave Sokol, owner of Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro – for a morning discussion at City Hall. Mayor Ken Welch issued a long-awaited request for proposals (RFP) April 14 for a private company to renovate and manage the facility.

The downtown facility is in disrepair, and local leaders have recognized the need for modernization efforts and improvements since a 2017 Master Plan. Years of debate over control, the selection process and contract length ensued, and city officials sought to clarify RFP aspects before the June 15 question submittal due date.

The first and foremost query of the roundtable discussion concerned the five-year term. Joe Zeoli, managing director of city development, explained that St. Petersburg’s charter mandates the maximum length unless voters approve otherwise through a referendum.

“The developer would have the opportunity to request an extension of that term for an additional five years, and so on,” Zeoli said.

He noted the agreement is not ideal for private companies making a significant investment, and offered two possible alternatives. A company could request an upfront referendum as part of its proposal, although Zeoli relayed the likelihood of that failing without demonstrable success in redeveloping the marina.

He said a more likely scenario is for a company to complete the upgrades and show it is a suitable long-term operator for the community amenity. However, there are no guarantees that city administrators would grant a referendum request or even extend the lease.

“So, what happens if it’s terminated at the end of that period?” Zeoli added. “That’s something your proposals need to address.”

Potential developers, city officials and Marina stakeholders met Monday at City Hall for a pre-proposal meeting.

An attendee asked if city officials want developers to make a $30 million to $50 million investment, publicly release their designs and hope for a referendum or extension with no capital protections. Zeoli clarified that submitted proposals should include what it would take to “buy out” the agreement after five years.

“You’re writing in your protection, basically,” said James Corbett, city development administrator.

A company representative also asked about the 1st Avenue SE bridge connecting Bayshore Dr. to Demens Landing Park. Evan Birk, transportation design manager, said it is nearing the end of its service life, and he would like to explore including that project in the RFP.

Zeoli noted that most of the Marina parking is at Demens Landing, also protected by the city charter. He said city officials are interested in how proposals might reimagine parking facilities in the existing area but warned against encroaching on greenspace.

Burke relayed that developers should prepare for height limitations when using cranes for construction due to nearby Albert Whitted Airport. David Wirth, enterprise facilities planning manager, said the selected company could utilize Port St. Petersburg and drive materials over, which city officials found more efficient than using barges in some instances when building the St. Pete Pier.

Further questions are due June 15, and Zeoli explained that city staff would provide follow-up answers in writing “as soon as possible.” The Marina webpage will also feature that correspondence and any RFP updates.

He also reiterated that administrators would not accept separate Fresco’s redevelopment proposals, and applications are due by 10 a.m. July 14. Zeoli said Welch would make the final decision – similar to the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment process – with staffers offering observations and perceived strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s a very important thing for the community,” Zeoli said. “So, he’s kind of taking that direction.”








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  1. Avatar

    Page Obenshain

    May 17, 2023at8:30 am

    May 10, 2023


    The City Council endorsed Marina Advisory Committee (MAC) has reviewed the 2023 RFP that city staff has issued for the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina and offers this position statement.

    Term of Agreement- Because the City Charter limits any lease agreement to 5 years, the solicitation is for a 5-year engagement. If a developer is asked to finance the marina rebuild, instead of the city, they will fairly ask for a buyout clause at the end of the initial five-year lease, if the agreement is not renewed.

    Should the lease not be renewed, this would put the city into a situation of being a “financial hostage”.

    Terminating the agreement, would require the City to incur the expense of acquiring new multi-million-dollar financing, as well as being ‘at risk’ for any increase in interest rates. All this would need to be addressed on extremely short notice. The cost and timeline to obtain replacement financing could easily compel the city to issue another five-year lease to a poor performing developer.

    Likewise, the impartiality of any referendum would be tainted by the cost of not approving a long-term lease.

    Parking: The city designers did not anticipate the needs of the marina tenants to arrive by auto and access their boats. There is no easy solution, but consideration should be a priority to ensure the financial viability of the North Docks.

    Identity of the Marina, The RFP makes no mention of this. The MAC feels that the name,
    St. Petersburg Municipal Marina should remain as the primary name to illustrate that the marina is open to the public and an asset of the City of St. Petersburg.

    Section 13 allows the mayor to select a proposal at his sole discretion. The MAC feels a better system is to have a committee made up of staff and citizens to pare down the proposals to the best two or three for the mayor’s consideration.

    The Marina Advisory Committee has goals, a marina that is:
    • aesthetically appealing to all, with a well-balanced choice of amenities
    • both well-built and operated in a professional manner
    • both affordable and
    • revenue neutral- the marina should generate adequate revenue to cover actual hard operating costs, as well as accrual money to pay for renewal and replacement.

    The simple, efficient, and profitable way to accomplish, all of the above, is for the city to change direction and BOND & BUILD the Marina as they did for the Pier. The experience gained working on the pier, while not wholly transferable, provides a solid knowledge base. The on-going operation and maintenance of the Marina could be contracted to a qualified company with a five-year lease or kept in-house, if in-sourcing is more cost-efficient.

    MAC Committee:
    Hugh Hazeltine, Page Obenshain, Bill Herrmann, Chad Shakespeare, Nancy Ballard, Bill Dahl.
    Reply to Page Obenshain. or 727 430-6532

  2. Avatar

    Debi Mazor

    May 16, 2023at4:30 pm

    Too bad for decades after its creation in 1965 the successors to the visionary City officials who built and supported it, lost sight of how our public Marina when properly maintained contributes to the vitality of the waterfront, its parks, and affords equitable facilities to residents. For decades the City has diverted $250/yr (income from visiting sailors, dockers and tenants) out of the Enterprise Fund, robbing us of the money needed for the capital improvements it now says we can’t afford. Don’t say “that’s water under the bridge.” Council, recommit to providing the public the amenities (like the public golf courses, etc) that residents and the average sailor can afford. Borrow and use the income in the manner for what it was intended. Please keep the St Pete Municipal Marina public!

  3. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    May 15, 2023at4:06 pm

    I find it remarkable that the current pier costs 90 million and yet the whole marina is priced out for developers at 50 million. The Pier originally was budgeted at 30 million so that means the city spent 60 million over budget. IMHO the Pier shows little for it. The large hanging art was already paid for (three million)at the very beginning of the former mayor’s tenure so you can deduct that.(The city paid for installation and now pays for upkeep).We did give one million for a kiddy park that starting about now is too hot to spend any time in. Another million went to Tampa Bay Watch, unsure why. The two times I visited the pier the kiosks were closed. I suggest anyone reading this visit the current pier and find that missing 58 million. That would be an excellent exercise, even a case study, in city planning and budgeting. The really smart money could have added a”Pier/City Marina Tab” to past and current developers.

  4. Avatar

    steve sullivan

    May 15, 2023at3:31 pm

    Andy, stop being negative and better comphrehend what is being said. There are additional 5 year extensions if you win the bid. The extensions would have to go before council every 5 years. Whether you get those extentions would be dependant on good stewardship of the public asset. Despite your statement St. Pete is in demand for development because of its waterfront charter

  5. Avatar

    Georgia Earp

    May 15, 2023at3:21 pm

    I like that this process has been transparent and there is a focus on keeping the green space. In addition, the initial contract would only be for five years. The last proposal looked like they wanted to turn Demens Landing into a theme park. I hope that doesn’t happen.

  6. Avatar


    May 15, 2023at3:17 pm

    Talk about killing the fatted calf, if I understand correctly the City expects a developer to commit to a $30m+ redevelopment (maybe $50M?) and its just for 5 years, so their ROI would have to be $6-10m per year….which is never going to happen and the City also wants low cost docks for those of limited means. So after 5 years you would need a referendum for another 5 years, which could of course fail. So you built in RFP should include how to get you return after 5 years, meaning the City would have to buy you out, assuming you will make about $800,000 per years the city would have to find $24M, but also could just kick you out. How NOT to get developers to invest in St Pete…BTW there is nothing “Historic” about the Gas Plant District, just call it The Old Gas Plant District.

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