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Revitalizing the St. Pete Marina – an alternate plan

Eric Feldman

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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.

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This is the first of two parts.

A proposal from Safe Harbor Marinas (SHM) to rebuild the St Pete Municipal Marina (SPMM) was recently selected by Mayor Ken Welch, and will be voted on by City Council soon. That proposal turns our Marina over to a private company, which will design, build and operate (DBO) a private marina on city property. Slip rent will increase, from the current $12 (per foot per month) to $21, then increase to $26 and then $33, making SPMM the most expensive of any marina in Pinellas County. Live-aboard boats, commercial operators and boaters of average means will be driven from the Marina.

We will be left with an exclusive, private marina on city property at the heart of our waterfront.

And privatizing the marina is a one-way street – the cost to buy out SHM will be too high.

There is a viable, cost-effective alternative that 1) Preserves SPMM as a true municipal marina 2) addresses needed repairs and upgrades now and 3) provides for more capital-intensive upgrades over time.

But to discuss this option we need to address the myths that surround the marina, and the documented facts that contradict them. Understanding those myths is critical, as they are used to justify why it is “necessary” to privatize the marina.

But first, we need to understand what a municipal marina is.

A municipal marina (like any municipal facility) is built by a city and operated in a fiscally responsible manner. Municipal marinas provide decent facilities below local market rates.  This is how all our municipal facilities operate, and how SPMM has been operated for over 100 years. No other “enterprise facility” (The Trop, Mahaffey Theater, Albert Whitted Airport) is expected to pay for its own construction from its operating revenue. And none have been privatized. Until now.

Affordable slip rent is core to being a municipal marina, but slip rent, and its effect on marina tenants, has not been discussed during this process. The previous vendor (Safe Harbor Development, a different company) never disclosed its planned rent increases, and in five years of proposing, pushing and opposing that plan, no one ever asked.

Our “future” marina is identical to Harborage Marina, which Safe Harbor Marinas designed, built and operates on city property at Bayboro Harbor. Harborage is a beautiful, well-managed facility, but it is the second-most expensive marina in Pinellas County (after the Vinoy). Under the current proposal, SPMM rents will be even higher.

In Myth #1 we are told that the City “cannot afford” the needed upgrades to the marina.

The fact is that the City is unwilling to fund the hyper-inflated $48M project currently on the table. By structuring this project as a DBO, the City avoids paying construction costs. Giving away our marina is presented as “necessary.”

In Myth #2 we are told that construction costs will be paid by Safe Harbor Marinas.

In fact, SHM will finance the $48M project. But marina tenants will pay for it through increased slip rent. In other words, the City is shifting its responsibility for rebuilding the marina onto marina tenants. And tenants won’t just be paying for repairs and upgrades (the municipal model). They will also be repaying the construction costs (the private model). It will no longer be a municipal marina.

The Marina Master Plan envisions a facility that is “accessible to all while also serving as a world-class marina.” But many current marina tenants will be forced out by 250% rent increases. This is not “accessible to all.”

In Myth #3 we are told the marina is falling down.

In fact, the visible parts of the marina are in disrepair and require significant repairs or replacement. But those elements (bathrooms, utilities, etc.) are only about 10% of a marina’s cost. Seawalls are another 10%, but their replacement is not part of the Marina project.

The remaining 80% of a marina’s value is in dock structures. And, according to the City’s own consulting engineers, 95% of those fixed, concrete dock structures are in Good, Fair or Satisfactory condition.

When this was pointed out to a senior member of city staff, the reply was both surprising and revealing:

“Satisfactory is not Good Enough.”

That seems to sum up the City’s position.

Because those “satisfactory” docks do not fit into the City’s goal to dock megayachts at the marina.

Megayachts in a municipal marina?

Yes, that’s the plan. That’s been the plan since before there was a plan.

The first paragraph of the Marina Master Plan states, “Specific goals of the master plan, outlined by the City, include … berthing options for megayachts …” This was The City’s “specific goal” before the Master Plan. Before Public input.

And berthing megayachts requires a total reconfiguration of the marina. That means demolishing and replacing docks that are (95%) in Good, Fair or Satisfactory condition. Dock Demo/Replacement is 60-80% of the current $48M project cost (it was 60% in the SHD
proposal, just for the Central Basin).

So follow along: The docks are in satisfactory condition, but they “need” to be demolished and replaced to fulfill the City’s plan to accommodate megayachts. The City “cannot afford” this hyper-inflated total rebuild, so we “need” to give the marina away to a private company that will finance construction, run the marina, and double the slip rent. This all has to happen right now.

And future marina tenants pay for the whole thing.

That is the current project in a nutshell.

Part 2 of this letter will discuss (and correct) more marina myths, and then present a realistic, cost-effective plan to revitalize the marina with needed repairs and upgrades now, and then build towards a world-class marina that is accessible to all.

The documents referenced in this letter are available at this link. They include:
Safe Harbor Marinas Proposal

Marina Master Plan
Slip Rents (St.Pete Municipal, SHM Proposal and local marinas)
SPMM condition inspection reports (and summary)
St. Pete financial reports for enterprise facilities (and summary)

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mak

    February 22, 2024at11:34 pm

    I saw this coming years ago when they tore down a perfectly good playground at Demens Landing. The marina office will probably eventually become a restaurant that serves alcohol. And where will the megayachts go after they go to Egmont? They’ll visit once or twice a year. Meanwhile, middle class families will no longer be able to live on the water, afford to send their children to college, and St. Pete will look like Ft. Lauderdale. Greed wins. Heartbreaking. We need new leaders and commissioners… people that truly care about ALL the people of this city…instead of bowing to the wealthy.It is shameful if this happens. Our slip rents helped the city for years and now they’re abandoning us. Shameful. So this is my dare to the mayor & commissioners…I dare you to do the right thing.

  2. Avatar

    Debi Mazor

    February 9, 2024at10:48 pm

    For as long as I’ve been listening to City conversations about the Municipal Marina I’ve never heard a single Councilmember or Mayor express any understanding of it or of what it contributes to our City. It provides affordable housing to 100 citizens. The City’s ignorance robbed it of necessary maintenance and repairs the 16 years I was a tenant. It’s unforgiveable to now take it away from the public and privatize it.

  3. Avatar

    Claire Busch

    February 6, 2024at11:36 am

    I wish our elected officials would concentrate on improvements instead of making unnecessary projects priority. I would love to see improvements to our sanitation system which is long over due. We need more affordable housing so the people who work here can live here. We don’t need any more 20 story condos for the rich just as we don’t need a new marina built for the rich boats.

  4. Avatar

    Wally Moran

    February 3, 2024at5:00 pm

    Excellent article. SHM is becoming a cancer in the boating world, and like all cancers, brings nothing good as it metastisizes along the US coast.
    I trained, and have stayed at, this marina. I have friends there. And to see it become yet another haven for the wealthy is truly disheartening.
    Stand firm local boaters! Let your city reps know that this is a terrible plan. Talk to the managers at places like West Marine, to local riggers, divers, etc. and let them know that there will be less business for them as there are fewer boaters. Get everyone involved. Enlist the media on this.
    You’re going to have to fight, because your city people do NOT have the average boater/voter’s interests in mind.

  5. Avatar

    Dave Aumack

    February 1, 2024at2:08 pm

    Great Article – exposing the myths! Shame that is seems our new city leadership has so quickly become corrupted by greed, instead of serving the people of St Pete.

  6. Avatar

    Gary Felton

    February 1, 2024at12:15 pm

    We have had experience with this Marina company before here in Puerto Rico. They are buying up every available marina and cranking up the prices. Yes they are nice marinas, but only the wealthy can afford them. Since they are corporate their rules and regulations are oppressive. This also means customer service suffers greatly if you don’t toe the corporate line. No room for thinking outside the corporate box and giving fair and customary customer service. If this goes through you will find the beautiful docks that very empty.

  7. Avatar

    Bill Herrmann

    February 1, 2024at11:16 am

    Please see comments under part 2

  8. Avatar

    Jeff L

    February 1, 2024at12:07 am

    Sounds like we need to vote them out! They push for affordable living and make moves like this? That is contradictory and moronic.

  9. Avatar

    MelvinJunior

    January 31, 2024at7:01 pm

    Great article for calling them all out on their BS. I’m tired of getting scammed and being ‘sold-out’ by these incompetent, corrupt people in-charge, who ONLY care about themselves, & their OWN agendas.

  10. Avatar

    Sharon

    January 31, 2024at3:12 pm

    Why are we giving away everything? This marina should not exist for only the very rich. There are two other areas downtown where these megayachts can berth.

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