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Marina redevelopment proposals surface

Mark Parker

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A view of the Municipal Marina from Fresco's Waterfront Bistro's outdoor patio. Photo by Mark Parker.

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.”

A rendering from Safe Harbor Marinas of the Central Basin, with the St. Petersburg Pier in the background. Screengrab.

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.

A rendering of a reimagined Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro from Suntex Marinas. Screengrab.

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.

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    OriginalJud

    July 29, 2023at4:31 am

    Bad ideas all around. Demens Landing is a non starter. Don’t privatize this Marina. City does not want anything to go to a referendum because they know the photos will kill it

  2. Avatar

    Darren Ginn

    July 27, 2023at10:46 am

    What we don’t need is an overly commercialized waterfront crawling with so many people it becomes a circus. Too many developers will do anything for profits and care little or nothing about consequences.
    Voters must stand firm and not allow big$$$ to destroy our small-town feel and allure.

  3. Avatar

    Page Obenshain

    July 27, 2023at8:13 am

    Hal, you are right, the third option is for the city to BOND AND BUILD and that seems to be the best option. The management can be put out in an RFP.

  4. Avatar

    Hal Freedman

    July 25, 2023at4:40 pm

    I’m concerned about the suggestion of the development of Demens Landing in one of the Marina proposals. With increased development and activity in the park, it may become difficult, or impossible, to produce American Stage’s park production. I would hate to see this nearly 40 year St. Petersburg tradition disappear. In addition, I hate the idea of more development in our waterfront park system. The proposal should be strictly for the marina.

    Frankly, I think the city should issue bonds, contract with Marina experts to do the work, and make it a city-controlled project. The more I look at the proposals, both now and in 2021, the more I’m concerned the city is not going to come out on top.

  5. Avatar

    Tom Barry

    July 25, 2023at4:22 pm

    The city Charter is clear on this, Sec 1.02 states “no waterfront or park property owned by the City may be sold, donated or leased without specific authorization by a majority vote in a City-wide referendum.”
    They are ignoring/breaking the charter! They must present this concept to the voters before they cut thier sweetheart deals!

  6. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    July 24, 2023at5:29 pm

    I was at the meeting at city hall for the bidders to ask questions. Joe Zeoli explained that Demons Landing was not to be part of the development.

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