Safe Harbor Development President Darby Campbell has been reading and listening to the concerns of small boat owners in St. Petersburg who are unhappy with some elements of his company’s proposal to redevelop the city’s municipal marina.
In a call with the Catalyst, Campbell said he and his team based their vision for the marina on the 2017 Moffatt & Nichol report that indicated the city’s investment in redeveloping the facility would be better served by adding more slips for larger vessels, because of high pent-up demand.
According to a summary of that report posted on the city’s website, “approximately 40 percent of the slips under 28 feet … have lower occupancy and less revenue generation than larger slips.” Additionally, Moffatt & Nichol’s research revealed that, at 36 feet, the municipal marina’s average slip length was significantly smaller than marinas in the rest of the Tampa Bay market, which average around 50 feet.
“The first thing we did was go back to the Moffatt & Nichol study,” he said. “They had been studying and planning the marina for five years.”
However, criticism of Safe Harbor Development’s proposal to eliminate slips under 30 feet in length has led the Nashville-based company to take a look at how it could accommodate smaller boats.
“There’s been a fair amount of folks who are concerned that they’re going to be pushed out of the marina and pushed out of boating because the slips are going to be too big and too expensive,” Campbell said. “That’s not our goal at all. Long story short, I’m gonna figure out a way to find an area where we can build some 20- or 24-foot slips and accommodate those folks that are either already in the marina or some of the folks that want to come to the marina.”
To prove he’s serious, Campbell said he’s commissioned Moffatt & Nichol to help his firm tweak its $30 million proposal for the marina. He said he’s also been in talks with Waterfront Parks Foundation President Phil Graham about concerns that a significant amount of contiguous parkland at Demens Landing would be lost because of additional parking spaces called for in the proposal.
“I fully intend to do some redesign and make sure that we have some small slips,” Campbell said, adding that “we’ve learned, as you always do in these projects, where the sensitivities are, and obviously here it’s small boats and it’s green space.”
Graham, speaking to the Catalyst, said talks with Safe Harbor Development have been fruitful. “We have made some real progress,” he said. “We’re crafting a letter to respond to their last proposal, which has come a long way from where they started.”
On the topic of boat slips, however, Campbell acknowledged that rental fees will undoubtedly go up. He said Safe Harbor Development will stick with the marina’s existing rate sheet for the first year but add a 10 percent increase across the board. Then it will implement a different pricing structure.
The marina, he said, “is way underpriced based on the market. It just won’t work, long term, based on a $30 million investment. We’ve got to slowly get this marina toward market rate or at least close to it.”
Campbell also responded to concerns about his company’s qualifications to redevelop a large-scale, saltwater municipal marina like St. Pete’s. Although Safe Harbor Development started out as a marina developer, it has since diversified into RV parks, restaurants and theme park attractions. He pointed to Buffalo Harbor Marina in Buffalo, N.Y., as a project similar in size and scope to what the company would be undertaking in St. Pete. With a price tag of $20 million, that project, he said, included the replacement of 1,200 boat slips and a complete overhaul of the facility’s parking, electric and water infrastructure.
“Obviously, when I got there, they were suspect as to what I could do, and could I do what I said I was going to do? But it went great,” Campbell said. “It was a huge project, but we did it on time and on budget. That was our last big marina project, but marinas are where we really focus, and that’s my passion. I’m a boater.”