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Company that ‘understands the waterfront’ picked to develop a plan for the St. Pete Municipal Marina

Margie Manning

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St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

A Tennessee company that develops, owns and operates marinas across the southeast United States will provide a development concept for a full renovation of the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina.

The company, Safe Harbor Development, has about four months to complete the pre-development work, and if the city likes what it sees, Safe Harbor Development could get a deal to take on the development work, as well as lease and operate the city-owned marina.

Safe Harbor Development was one of four companies that submitted plans to last year to repair and renovate the city-owned marina, which was built in the 1960s and needs modernization to continue effectively serving the boating population, according to a master plan developed in November 2017. The 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. The city  would retain ownership of the assets in any public-private partnership that might eventually occur.

Mayor Rick Kriseman recommended the city move forward with Safe Harbor Development for pre-development work. Kriseman told the City Council Thursday that the company’s president, Darby Campbell, understands the city’s vision for the waterfront.

“What we heard from Darby and his team was this is a community asset and it should be open to the whole community. You’ve just built this magnificent new Pier and so whatever we do needs to tie in with the Pier, which I really liked hearing also,” Kriseman said.

Darby Campbell

Safe Harbor Development, based in Knoxville, has a diverse portfolio of projects, including hotels, restaurants, retail and residential developments. One of its most recent projects, Margaritaville Hotel Nashville, opened last fall. Safe Harbor Development is one of the largest privately owned marina companies in the country, and Campbell likes to take on marinas that need upgrades. Too many marinas have an industrial look, he said.

“What we try to create is an environment everybody can enjoy, and St. Pete is probably the best opportunity I’ve ever seen for the non-boating public to be able to utilize the marina,” Campbell said.

City council members unanimously approved a resolution giving Safe Harbor Development 120 days to deliver the development concept plan. The plan will include conceptual design documents, identification of engineering and other professional services needed to assure compliance with permitting requirements, cost estimates for a project with an estimated $30 million budget, and a project schedule.

If it likes the plan, the city council would take a separate vote in the future on a development, operating and lease agreement.

If the city decides not to move forward with the project, the city will reimburse Safe Harbor Development for up to $50,000 for the costs it incurred in preparing the development concept plan. If Safe Harbor Development backs off from the project, the company is solely responsible for the costs.

One concern that emerged during the debate was the rent Safe Harbor Development has said it would pay the city if it eventually wins the development, lease and operating agreement. The company has proposed a base rent of $250,000 a year plus 25 percent of gross marina revenue. City Council member Robert Blackmon said that seemed low for a waterfront property. Kriseman and Alan DeLisle, the city’s development administrator, said Safe Harbor Development was the only company that offered to pay any base rent. DeLisle also said specific terms still would have to be negotiated.

Council member Darden Rice said she wanted to keep marina rentals affordable.

“Right now, some of those slips are extremely affordable. Unfortunately I think they’re affordable because the facility isn’t as nice as it could be,” Rice said. “But having said that, I’d hate to price people out and I just want to put a strong word in for doing what we can to protect the affordability for people who use the marina and also for the live-aboards.”

Marina rates have been below market for a long time, Kriseman said.

“Even if we were to do this project on our own, there is no way we would be able hold rates where they are at,” Kriseman said. “Anyone who invests the kind of money it will take to bring this marina up to where it needs to be would unfortunately have to raise rates. We hope the majority of the folks who are there will be able to stay there, but the reality is there may be able some who won’t be able to because they won’t be able to handle that increase.”

If the project moves forward, the city would sign an initial five-year lease with Safe Harbor Development, and during that time the city and the company would work on a long-term lease, which would require a city vote because the marina is waterfront property. A vote could be several years away, city officials said.

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