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Mayor selects St. Pete Municipal Marina developer

Mark Parker



A Safe Harbor Marinas rendering of a reimagined Fresco's Waterfront Bistro as part of the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier's redevelopment. Screengrab, city documents.

In a recent interview with the Catalyst, Mayor Ken Welch said the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina project has not taken a back seat to the Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment.

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.”

The 640-slip Municipal Marina has reached the end of its service life. Photo by Mark Parker.

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.

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

“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.



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  1. Avatar

    Richard R Bruce

    January 5, 2024at11:05 pm

    All SHM marinas cater to luxury yachts. SHM requires “memberships” that boat owners must comply with their electronic financial data and mandatory online connection requirements. What does a boat owner do if all they want is a place to put their $5k twenty year old 27ft Catalina and does not want to become a member of the SHM “Intersection of luxury and adventure”? I don’t want my water experience reimagined like never before.

    What will be the total monthly cost of a 30ft slip?

  2. Avatar

    Richard Bruce

    January 5, 2024at8:35 pm

    New slip arrangement increases the number larger slips and decreased smaller slips <28ft. This is to collect more revenue with fewer boats. It reduces total number of slips which results in lower M&R costs. Millionaires with $300k+ boats are waiting in line to pay thousands per year for these new slips. Reality is these owners and boats don't exist. New slip fees will price out the small boat owner. There will no place for these boats to go. Where are the "affordable" slips? Where are current small boat owners going to put their boats? Can't sell them because no one will buy them since there is no place to put them. Need to restruct total marina design.

  3. Avatar

    Tom Barry

    January 4, 2024at7:22 pm

    This “DEAl’ voilates the city charter. The mayor must first put it up to a voters referendum. Read the following –
    Sec. 1.01. – General powers.
    The City of St. Petersburg shall have all governmental, corporate, and proprietary powers to enable it to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise any power for municipal purposes except when expressly prohibited by law.

    State Law reference— Powers, F.S. § 166.021.

    Sec. 1.02. – Park and waterfront property; use, disposition.
    (a)Purpose. The purpose of this section is to protect City-owned park and waterfront property. Except as provided herein, 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.

  4. Avatar

    Alex Evans

    January 4, 2024at4:26 pm

    ……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. What planet is this from. St Pete Yacht Club is just rebuilding its 56 slip Marina, cost $8.4M,.

  5. Avatar


    January 4, 2024at3:08 pm

    It’s alll gonna wash away in the next hurricane so why even bother waste the money. Coastal st pete is a disaster waiting to happen. Look at the flooding in shore acres during Idalia, and various other un-named storms

  6. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    January 4, 2024at1:58 pm

    As a member of the Marina Advisory Committee, we looked at several aspects regarding a rebuild. Picking a Marina Operator to partner with may be one of the easier decisions. The seawalls are older than the marina infrastructure and are planned to be replaced during this effort. The question is: how high do we build the new seawalls? Will FEMA or the Army Corp of Engineers have requirements that must be complied with? A higher seawall will change the design challenges for gateways to the docks. At this time there is no clear best solution. But a decision on this must be made before any work can commence.

  7. Avatar

    Page Obenshain

    January 4, 2024at11:18 am

    The Marina Advisory Committee, recognized by our City Council, has no issues with the Mayor’s choice. However we believe the city should bond (fund) the project to maintain clear ownership, quality of the build, and a reduced cost of interest, saving a few million. SHM could still be the company who will build the marina.

  8. Avatar

    Steve Sullivan

    January 3, 2024at1:27 pm

    Very good points that I was not aware of. Thank you!

  9. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    January 3, 2024at11:53 am

    As a now retired delivery captain I have visited many Safe Harbor Marina (SHM) locations from Key West to Newport, they are a truly a best-in-class marina operator. They are a great business partner!

    But “the devil is in the details”. I am confident that staff and the professional at SHM will work out solid performance measures. The issue to monitor is financing. If the City finances the project through SHM, there are two major problems.

    First, the cost of borrowing through SHM will be much higher than a municipal bond. Additionally, while a municipal bond would have a fixed rate for 30 years, the short-term nature of the initial contract could result in a disastrous variable rate loan. This additional cost for the higher interest rate will have to be paid by the Marina users. That is simply unfair.

    The second issue, and one that should scare ALL the voters, is the economic extortion we will face in 5 years. I realize that is a powerful phrase and offer the following explanation. If the contract is approved today, in 5 years there will need a referendum to extend the contract. If the contract is not extended, a future City Council, and whoever is Mayor in 5 years will be required to find $50 million or more to buy out the contract.

    Hopefully, this matter goes before the Community Benefits Advisory Council and that council is expanded to include Marina stakeholders.

    In summary, if the project is financed through SHM marina users will pay higher rates and we empower SHM to hold a $50+ million anvil over our heads while we decide the question of extending the contract in 5 years.

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