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City seeks lease proposals for St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

Margie Manning



St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

Safe Harbor Marinas, which says it is the largest owner and operators of marinas in the world, wants to lease and operate the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, the largest marina in the region.

The unsolicited proposal, submitted in February, was made public this week by the city’s real estate and property management department. The city has issued a legal notice of intent to lease the property and is seeking alternative proposals.

If the city moves forward with a lease for the Municipal Marina, it would be the latest in series of public-private partnerships that also include the Mahafffey Theater, Al Lang Field, Tropicana Field and the Manhattan Casino, among others, said Mario Farias, managing member of the Farias Consulting Group, a St. Petersburg company that’s working with Safe Harbor. Farias also is involved in the Manhattan Casino partnership.

“The key to public-private partnerships is you are getting a company to come in and say, we believe in the vision you have. We can just manage it more efficiently,” Farias said.

The Municipal Marina, adjacent to the St. Pete Pier, 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 was built in the 1960s and needs modernization to continue effectively serving the boating population, according to a master plan developed in November 2017.

Safe Harbor leases The Harborage Marina at Bayboro in St. Petersburg, a 340-slip marina at 1110 3rd St. S. in St. Petersburg. That lease was the catalyst for its proposal to operate the Municipal Marina, Safe Harbor’s proposal said.

“We feel [Safe Harbor] is uniquely positioned to help [the city] achieve such a renovation all while providing [the city] the premium first class facility they deserve and allowing [the city] to reallocate funding to other critical projects of near term importance,” the proposal said.

Safe Harbor’s proposal calls for the company to commit the needed capital for the renovations, in return for a five-year initial lease term, with the option to extend that to 30 or more years. Safe Harbor would have the right to set rates for wet slip rentals, with rate hikes capped at 12 percent annually once renovations have begun. Safe Harbor would pay rent to the city, with the rent equal to 15 percent of the annual gross revenue collected by Safe Harbor through the operation of the marina. The company also plans to offer jobs to the existing management and staff at the marina.

Safe Harbor, based in Dallas, owns more than 80 marinas — including its most recent purchase, Pier 77 in Bradenton —  and leases many others, Farias said.

“Because they manage and run efficiently, they’ve been able to maximize services and minimize the investments. So when you are talking about owning 80 plus marinas, you’ve got huge buying power. What would cost the city $47 million, will cost [Safe Harbor] $30 million because everything is in house,” Farias said.

Weatherford Capital, a private equity firm in Tampa, is an equity investor in Safe Harbor. Weatherford Capital’s managing partner is Will Weatherford, former Florida House Speaker.

The city will take alternative proposals for the Municipal Marina until 10 a.m. June 7.



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  1. Avatar

    Chuck Nolan

    April 18, 2019at8:06 am

    So if this goes through one profit driven company will control ALL of the wet slips in St. Petersburg and will be able to raise rates 12% every year. This will effectively end the downtown marine community that I have enjoyed for over 10 years. The common man and citizen will be driven out in favor of the rich, out-of-town, yacht owners that park their million dollar boats there but don’t even live here. Privatization almost always means giving in to the notion that someone else, not locally motivated to do the right thing for the city, can do it “more efficiently”. This is simple abdication of responsibility.Ch

    • Avatar

      Debi Mazor

      April 20, 2019at8:49 am

      Time to organize.

  2. Avatar

    Mario Farias

    April 18, 2019at2:27 pm

    The isn’t geared to privatize the marina as you stated but to run it for the city considering it will remain an asset of our city such as the Mahaffey, Al Lang and even the Harborage is. Public-private Partnerships are becoming more and more common across the country in situations like this. The Harborage a Safe Harbor run marina in St. Petersburg has a robust live aboard community that embodies the entire spectrum of boaters. It is inevitable that rates will rise if the city takes on the burden of rebuilding the Marina or if anybody else takes on the monumental task. The city has taken great precautions in safeguarding those boaters in Municipal by capping the rates, something they would not be bound to if they do it. They also will continue the 2 tier system which allows St. Petersburg residents to pay a lower rate, another practice that the Harborage adheres to. The final point I’d like you to note is that the personnel will not change as it is the custom of Safe Harbor to keep the flavor of each marina local because you and I both know as boaters that every marina has its own personality.

    Please take the time and read the proposal and you will see it not only will be a great thing for the members of the marina but the 260,000 residents of St. Petersburg who won’t be burdened with the debt for 600 boaters.

    • Avatar

      Debi Mazor

      April 20, 2019at8:48 am

      Your post would be more disingenuous, Mr. Farias, if you disclosed your personal financial stake in this project.

    • Avatar

      Pat Marlowe

      May 4, 2019at4:39 pm

      12% year is an outrageous increase. Look at the Harborage, it is poorly run with terrible service and it is overpriced. I left the high and dry there due to the poor service at every level.

    • Avatar

      Steven Barber

      May 9, 2019at7:55 am

      City employees most likely would leave the marina so they dont loose their benefits and pensions

  3. Avatar

    Brion Kerlin

    May 10, 2019at11:06 am

    This company will not invest huge sums to “renovate” the marina because they won’t own it and can’t sell it to recoup their investment. So they will make smaller token improvements while drastically raising rents to make their profits. Payroll will be reduced by down grading or eliminating long tenured staff positions. The city is bailing out because they have mismanaged their water front properties for so long they are now faced with a huge backlog of long neglected repairs and improvements. I was a liveaboard in the marina for 20 years and personally witnessed this continual mismanagement and neglect. Leasing to a profit oriented corporation will not solve these problems

  4. Avatar

    George Manemann

    June 4, 2019at3:09 pm

    No doubt, SOMEONE will have to pay the price for upgrade. But, it seems to me the City could surely hire and/or maintain dedicated City staff members (with an appropriate budget for improvements) who would have a vested interest in restoration. Whether private or municipal, the cost will be borne somewhere, but I’m generally skeptical of privatizing municipal operations with companies whose sole purpose for existing is the bottom line of their revenue. Putting the Marina under the RIGHT management that continues to report directly to the City could/would surely reap rewards and bring the citizens (and tenants!!) the level of representation they deserve 24/7/365. A marina is a 24-hour thing — not off and on like other City facilities that have partnered with a private company. Privatization isn’t always the best answer. Easy yes, but not always best for a people-service industry under municipal oversight. And the possibility of 12% annual increases on already-costly slip rents will be very difficult — at best — to effectively defend.

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