Plans to restore the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina have resurfaced after years of debate over control, selection process, contract length and a developer unpopular with many residents and city council members.
City officials issued a new 17-page request for proposals (RFP) Friday for a private company to redevelop and manage the Marina, which acts as St. Pete’s “front yard” to the maritime world. A preproposal meeting is May 15, and bids are due July 14.
The downtown cog is in disrepair, and they could be making up for lost time. A 2017 Master Plan called for modernization efforts and improvements to docks “reaching the end of their service lives.”
Councilmember Gina Driscoll, who represents the area, said the wait is worth the potential payoff for the city, its residents and visitors.
“It looks like the RFP that went out today was done right,” Driscoll said. “And if that takes a little time, I’m ok with that.”
“Redevelopment of the Marina will be the next step in elevating our downtown waterfront and enhancing the city’s front yard.”
According to the documents, the city built the Marina bulkheads in the 1910s and 1920s, and many remain in service. Its docks are 40 to 50 years old.
In 2017, as the Master Plan process concluded, city officials received an unsolicited bid to redevelop and operate the city-owned facility. Administrators subsequently issued a public notice inviting alternative proposals and received three.
Former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration selected Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development (SHD), to the dismay of many. The landlocked company’s owner and his plans for the site ruffled some feathers, and a year-long debate ensued.
The new – and first – Marina RFP stipulates a developer and operator must have “significant experience” with similar facilities in a saltwater environment. Driscoll noted that would exclude SHD.
“That’s one of the reasons why SHD was never something I would have considered in the first place,” she added.
Some local leaders preferred the city to complete the redevelopment and retain control of the waterfront asset. “Just like we built a new pier,” said Councilmember Ed Montanari in a previous interview.
“I am not a big fan of turning over control of the marina to a private company,” he said. “Especially a private company that’s not from St. Petersburg.”
However, studies highlighted the cost and operational challenges for the city to lead the initiative. Driscoll said working with the “right” partner is an acceptable option, and Montanari similarly preferred issuing an RFP to relinquishing the project to SHD.
Mayor Ken Welch will select a company to redevelop and manage the 660-slip Marina over a five-year term. SHD’s owner initially requested a 25-year lease, a nonstarter for the city council.
The RFP documents state that the lessee could request a voter referendum for a longer agreement, or renew the lease every five years. The city council would ultimately vote on Welch’s selection as well as any contract extensions.
Driscoll said the right partner could establish comfort levels among council members through the first five years, who would then approve contract extensions. She also believes the Marina doesn’t need additional amenities due to its proximity to Beach Drive and the St. Pete Pier.
There is also Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro – which serves as a de facto gateway to the Marina and the adjacent Pier.
The city owns the property at 300 2nd Ave. NE and applicants can also redevelop and operate the long-standing restaurant. Its current lease expires in April 2024.
Documents note that “the physical condition of the restaurant is such that complete replacement is envisioned.” Proposals should include a site vision integrating a new establishment with the surrounding area, the estimated private investment and a 10-year cash flow analysis.
A lease over 10 years would also require voter approval.
“I hope that however we move forward, that Fresco’s – even a reimagined Fresco’s – will continue to be a tradition of the Marina,” Driscoll said. “It’s been there longer than most of the other restaurants you see today in that immediate area.”
The RFP states that private investment and Marina user fees must fund redevelopment and operations. City officials will not use tax dollars to support the project, with seawall restoration the lone, and unpreferred, exception.
Marina staff will have interview opportunities for continued employment with the selected company. Driscoll said constructions would occur in phases to mitigate disruptions to tenants and businesses.
City officials have the final say on design plans, and the Marina must continue accommodating vessels of all sizes. Liveaboard “opportunities” will remain.
In addition, “marina slip rates will be established with an eye towards affordability for all users while staying market competitive.”
In a statement announcing the RFP, James Corbett, city development administrator, called the downtown Municipal Marina an “anchor point” of St. Petersburg’s Waterfront District. “And we look forward to finding a partner that sees the potential of this landmark in our community,” he said.