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John’s Pass marina – a profitable piece of Pinellas history – is on the market

Bill DeYoung

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(Photo: Cushman & Wakefield)

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Pinellas County is up for grabs.

The Marina at John’s Pass, a mixed-use waterfront property at the southern tip of Madeira Beach, is being offered by New York-based LCS Associates LLC. Investment real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield is handing the sale of the 2.43 acre site, which includes several high-traffic restaurants – Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hooter’s and the Friendly Fisherman – retail shops, boat slips and other tenants.

It is the cornerstone of the John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk community.

“The market’s strong now for retail investment property,” says Cushman & Wakefield Managing Director Patrick Berman. “The Friendly Fisherman has been there for 40 years, so they’re an institution.

“Another strong selling point for the property is the parking structure itself. You’re talking six levels, 325 parking spaces in a concrete structure. To build that brand new would be $10 million, easily.”

Asking price for the site, which also includes the boardwalk from the John’s Pass bridge through the western edge of the Friendly Fisherman, is $18.5 million.

According to the John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk website, the area is the No. 1 tourist destination in Pinellas County.

(Visit St. Pete Clearwater could not confirm this claim.)

Red line indicates the boundaries of the 2.43 acres for sale (photo: Cushman & Wakefield)

 

A little history

Before the hurricane of 1848 – known at the time as the “Great Gale” – Madeira Beach and Treasure Island were a single stretch of land, continuing the sand-shifting barrier island chain alongside our Gulf coast to lower Tampa Bay. Wind, current and storm surge were so violent in the ’48 blow that the raging Gulf waters drove right through to Boca Ciega Bay. This opening would be dubbed John’s Pass (historically, it’s also spelled Johns, without the apostrophe).

The new opening was named for one John Levique, a subsistence farmer who had a home on Boca Ciega Bay (although there are annual “pirate festivals” bearing his name, there’s little-to-no evidence that Levique was anything other than a homesteader who wasn’t against turning the occasional profit. Calling him a “pirate,” however, is romantic and helps drive tourism).

That summer, Levique and his partner Joseph Silva sailed for New Orleans, where they sold a large cargo of green turtle meat, and proceeded to enjoy a boozy Big Easy bacchanal with their profits. The return voyage would have concluded with a turn into existing Blind Pass, to the south, but the sailors were surprised to discover there was a newer, more northerly cut through the island. A passage that hadn’t been there when they departed.

On the morning of Sept. 28, they sailed through it. And voila, from that moment it was John’s Pass.

 

Captain Wilson Hubbard (photo provided by Hubbard’s Marina)

The founding fisherman

The other key figure in the history of the pass is Wilson Hubbard, the son of Tennessee carnival workers, who moved to Pass-a-Grille in 1929 (the city at the time had 162 residents and one policeman).

Hubbard would never be a carny – in the classic sense. At 17, he bought a tiny “fleet” of rowboats and some cane poles and began renting them to tourists and locals. After World War II, Hubbard purchased a charter boat and established a profitable fishing excursion business from the 8th Avenue Pier (which would for years be known locally as “Hubbard’s Pier”).

With one of his charter buddies, Hubbard snare-caught three wild bottlenose dolphins off Shell Key. They crafted a chain-link “pen” off the key, and began the area’s first “porpoise show.” Hubbard’s day-trip boat would pull up to a small dock, he’d throw fish to the animals, the people would clap and cheer, and off the boat would roar to its next destination.

In 1953 – only a year or so into the enterprise – two of the dolphins escaped. Hubbard gave up on the idea and sold the remaining mammal to a bait-shop owner situated on John’s Pass. Jack Hurlburt built a 21 x 34 foot concrete tank, eight feet in depth, named it the Marine Arena, and presented “Paddy the Porpoise” shows, to paying customers, for 12 years.

A view from the John’s Pass bridge, circa 1950s

Later renamed the John’s Pass Aquarium, Hurlburt’s business closed in 1966. Wild Style Swimwear is the current tenant – in fact, the walls and roof of the “Paddy” tank are still visible inside the shop.

“Hub,” meanwhile, relocated to John’s Pass in 1976. His family built the Friendly Fisherman restaurant, which is a tenant in the current sale, and he was instrumental in getting the City to construct the public waterfront boardwalk along John’s Pass in 1980, and in the development of the larger community of John’s Pass Village.

Ironically, Hubbard’s original Village was designed to resemble a quaint, turn-of-the-century fishing village. The addition of the concrete parking structure, in 2007, and the expansion of retail, changed that vision for good.

Hubbard Properties – the company owned by Wilson Hubbard’s children and heirs – filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. The 2.43-acre property was deeded to their lender, Investors Warranty of America.

LCS Associates obtained the acreage in August, 2012 and made significant improvements including upgrades to the parking structure, the addition of new doors and windows and significant re-dredging of the boat slip area.

The Hubbard family continues to operate charter fishing and sight-seeing tours from Hubbard’s Marina. Likewise, they still own and manage the Friendly Fisherman business and provide its daily off-the-dock seafood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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