City officials recently released proposals with drastically different term lengths from two companies vying to redevelop and operate the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina.
The downtown facility is in disrepair, and a 2017 Master Plan called for extensive improvements. Mayor Ken Welch issued the proposal request in April, which includes the option to reimagine Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro’s space adjacent to the marina.
Welch will now decide between Suntex Marinas and Safe Harbor Marinas, both based in Dallas, to revitalize the city staple. However, the proposals vary significantly, and the city council will ultimately vote on the pick and any contract extensions.
“This is a significant project for our waterfront,” said Councilmember Gina Driscoll. “If you look north and south of it, we have so many great things going on … and then we have the marina, which has been in decline for quite some time.
“So, it’s like a missing piece of the puzzle here with our vibrant waterfront.”
In 2021, former Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development – unaffiliated with Safe Harbor Marinas – for the project. Ownership requested a 25-year lease, a non-starter for the council.
Suntex proposed a 30-year lease term, followed by two 25-year extensions. Driscoll, who represents the area, noted that would require voter approval.
“We wouldn’t even be able to do that (a referendum) until next year, next November,” Driscoll added. “So, I’m not sure why they would propose that.”
City officials would prefer a five-year lease. Joe Zeoli, managing director of city development, explained that a company could request an upfront referendum at a pre-proposal meeting in May.
However, he said that would likely fail without demonstrable success in redeveloping the 660-slip marina. Zeoli also acknowledged that the term is not ideal for private companies making a significant investment.
Previous estimates pegged the project at $30 million; the Suntex proposal includes over $70 million in capital improvements. Dave Filler, chief development officer, stated in the company’s transmittal letter that “Suntex is ready and able to fund the entirety of the proposed improvements in this proposal without any financial contingencies.”
Filler wrote that the redevelopment would generate $14.2 million in “ground lease and revenue share payments plus $2 million in property taxes through the initial 10 years of stabilized operations.” Those numbers ballooned to $444 million and $57 million over the proposed 80-year term.
Safe Harbor proposed a five-year lease in partnership with the Harborage Marina at Bayboro. The company operates that facility – just over a mile from the Municipal Marina.
Safe Harbor would contribute $48 million to the project, with $1.25 million upfront.
After the initial five-year construction phase, Safe Harbor would pay the city 15% of gross revenues – excluding fuel and retail revenues. The proposal states that rent payments would total $34.475 million over 20 years.
While the two companies operate from Texas, Driscoll doesn’t believe that is an issue. “I want the best, no matter where they’re from,” she said.
She also noted that both companies have extensive saltwater marina experience, an RFP requirement. Suntex manages 28 saltwater marinas, 16 in Florida. Safe Harbor runs 20 in the state.
Driscoll said she appreciates that both companies included space for smaller vessels. Many residents take advantage of the facility’s relatively affordable rents, and she believes “they will have a place in the new vision.”
“I’m excited that they are both looking at Fresco’s,” Driscoll added. “With that being a 20 or 21-year-old legacy building on the waterfront, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to put together a plan that includes Fresco’s in the future.”
The two proposals also include plans for developing Demens Landing Park. Safe Harbor envisions a two-story welcome and amenity center along its north wall, with a lounge, exercise facility and “parking for a fleet of electric vehicles available to boating members and visitors to navigate the city.”
The Suntex plan goes even further. It calls for 20,000 square feet of new restaurant and retail space within the park, 485 parking spaces (an increase of 200), a permanent amphitheater and an “option to add multipurpose fields and sports courts” on 10 of 16 redeveloped acres.
While Driscoll noted that the proposal includes alternative options, she “found it interesting” that Suntex officials emphasized changes to the park.
“That’s one of the downsides when you get proposers that are not from here and haven’t taken time to really understand our city and our waterfront park system,” Driscoll said. “It’s a proposal for the marina, not the park.”
To view the proposals, visit the website here.