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Council committee to hear update on marina proposal

Brian Hartz

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St. Petersburg Municipal Marina's South Basin.

St. Petersburg City Council’s Public Services and Infrastructure Committee — a body made up of council members Darden Rice, Robert Blackmon, Ed Montanari and Amy Foster — will meet on Thursday. The meeting’s agenda includes a presentation and discussion about the proposed redevelopment of the city’s municipal marina, a topic that became contentious when details emerged about potential changes to slip sizes and rental fees.

In addition to reviewing the marina development plan to the committee, Joe Zeoli, the city’s managing director of administration and finance, will also present a proposed lease agreement with Safe Harbor Development, the Tennessee company whose $30 million marina redevelopment concept was chosen over three others. Faced with criticism from owners of small boats berthed at the marina, who fear they will be pushed out by lack of slip inventory and rising rental fees, SHD CEO Darby Campbell told the Catalyst he would find a way to accommodate them.

But one boater isn’t buying it.

“It sounds like Mr. Campbell is ‘checking off the boxes’ in preparation to try and push forward to get City Council to vote in favor of the lease,” Michael Reed wrote in an email to the Catalyst. “I think it’s great that public feedback/concerns have had some impact, but I think the plan is still fundamentally flawed; we shouldn’t privatize our municipal marina.”

Reed owns a Beneteau First 235, a 23-foot sailboat, that’s berthed at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Under the rate increases proposed by SHD, Reed’s monthly slip rental fee would increase incrementally from $128.59 today to $516.83 in May 2025, although, as a St. Pete resident, he would qualify for a 10 percent discount.

Boaters who pay for their slips on an annual instead of monthly basis would also receive a discount. For example, under the 2022 rates proposed by SHD, a boater renting a slip the size of Reed’s would pay $336.25 per month instead of $388.30 if he or she paid for the entire year up front.

Darby Campbell, president of Safe Harbor Development. Courtesy photo.

Campbell said the municipal marina’s rates need to be brought up to market level if SHD is to recoup the investment needed to make much-needed infrastructure repairs at the facility. Under the terms of the proposed five-year lease, SHD will front the $30 million in capital for upgrades in exchange for rent offsets. The company’s base rent will be $250,000, with 2 percent increases to follow each year thereafter. The lease also calls for the city to receive 25 percent of gross revenue from slip rentals, as well as 2.5 percent of gross revenue from retail sales, such as fuel purchases.

The lease also allows for the city to hold a referendum after May 1, 2023, that would give voters the choice to accept or reject a lease extension of at least 20 years. Reed, however, said the referendum should be happening now instead of two or more years down the road. The city charter, he pointed out, forbids the sale, donation or lease of city-owned park and waterfront without a city-wide referendum.

“People have to vote on that,” Reed said. “If you really want to do this, why don’t we have a referendum? It could go on the ballot in August or September and the people could vote on it.”

Thursday’s Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee meeting is set to begin at 9:25 a.m. and can be viewed via St. Pete TV. There will be no formal public comment period during the meeting but Bryan Casañas-Scarsella, a legislative aide to Council Member Gina Driscoll, whose district includes the marina, said the committee members welcome thoughts and comments submitted via email.

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