Welch said he looked forward to recommending a developer to the city council in the new year and resolving marina issues first broached in 2017. A city spokesperson confirmed Tuesday (Jan. 2) afternoon that St. Petersburg’s much-anticipated other generational project is anchors aweigh.
Welch has selected Safe Harbor Marinas to reimagine and operate the 640-slip Municipal Marina. James Corbett, city development administrator, said the mayor directed city staff to begin contract negotiations with the Dallas-based company this month.
“Prior to this selection in late December, Mayor Welch and city staff conducted a comprehensive review and analysis of RFP (request for proposal) submissions from both Safe Harbor Marinas and Suntex Marina Investors, which included market proposals, financial data and responses to specific criteria for the redevelopment and operation management of the St. Petersburg Marina,” explained Corbett in an email. “Ongoing self-development and support were also considered by city staff members as they weighed utilizing the city’s own extensive resources to potentially redevelop the marina.”
Welch issued a new 17-page RFP in April 2023. City officials hosted a preproposal meeting in May, and bids were due July 14.
Representatives from at least eight companies joined city staff and marina stakeholders – including Dave Sokol, owner of Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro – at the May meeting. The RFP included the option to redevelop the adjacent restaurant on city-owned land.
The city’s charter mandates a five-year lease unless voters approve otherwise through a referendum. The selected company can request a vote or term extension, although there is no guarantee that administrators will acquiesce.
SHM and Suntex were the only two companies to submit proposals. The latter pitched $70 million in capital improvements, including an amphitheater and redeveloping 10 of Demens Landing Park’s 16 acres.
However, Suntex also requested a 30-year lease followed by two 25-year extensions. Safe Harbor Marinas (SHM) proposed a five-year lease – administrators’ preference – in partnership with the Harborage Marina at Bayboro, which it operates.
SHM proposed a $48 million investment, with $1.25 million upfront. That would pay for new docks, a welcome center and a two-story amenity center with a lounge and fitness facility.
Sokol’s lease expires in April, and SHM’s proposal includes a reimagined Fresco’s. After the initial five-year construction phase, SHM would pay the city 15% of gross revenues, excluding fuel and retail income.
The company expects to pay $678,000 in year six and $1.2 million after a decade at the helm. SHM’s proposal states that rent payments would total $35.73 million over 25 years.
“The recently completed (St. Petersburg) Pier project was an incredible start by the city in redefining and bettering the core of the city and the ever-increasing growth of the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County waterfront, marine and boating industry,” states the proposal. “The rehabilitation of the marina will undoubtedly … make the St. Petersburg downtown waterfront a preeminent world-class destination and jewel of Florida’s west coast.”
The RFP required saltwater marina experience; SHM owns 135 fresh and saltwater marinas nationally, and 20 in Florida. The company pledged to accommodate “underserved market demands” and local events and provide opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and vendors.
A 2017 Master Plan called for modernization efforts and improvements to docks “reaching the end of their service lives.” Years of debate over control, the selection process, contract length and a developer unpopular with many residents and city council members ensued.
In 2021, former Mayor Rick Kriseman selected Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development – unaffiliated with SHM – for the project. Its owners requested a 25-year lease, a non-starter for the city council.
Six of eight city council members must now approve a recommended contract agreement with SHM.