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St. Petersburg floats municipal marina renovation options

Mark Parker

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St. Petersburg City Council members recently heard an independent review comparing two scenarios for an extensive renovation project at the municipal marina. City officials remain split as to whether the city should handle the project internally or turn the project over to a previously selected developer. File photo.

As the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina falls further into disrepair, city council members continue to explore the best course of action to rehabilitate and revitalize the community asset.

During Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, council members heard an independent review of two possible scenarios: the city leading the implementation of improvements, or turning the project over to a developer. The discussion follows an August City Council meeting where council members heard a first reading of the former administration’s plan to hand over management and redevelopment of the public marina to Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development (SHD).

Despite a presentation touting the benefits of a long-term lease with SHD, the city council refused to take up a vote that would have sent the measure to a public referendum. While some council members were on board with a five-year lease, handing management of the marina to a developer for a 25-year term proved to be a bridge too far.

McLaren Engineering Group’s independent review compared the city leading the project with SHD implementing the improvements and operating and maintaining the marina for the original five-year term. Marshall Hampton, a senior professional engineer for the city, explained that the city’s scope would include more extensive and long-term improvements.

“If we’re going to get one price, we might as well bond it once,” said Hampton. “Touch it once.”

Hampton said the city would completely rehabilitate areas around Demens Landing and the South Basin’s Pier 3 and 4, while SHD would simply upgrade utilities, such as communications and power.

City documents show the area around Demens Landing in critical need of repairs. Screengrab.

“Their (SHD) assumption is accurate,” said Hampton. “There is enough service life left in those piers for them to be able to meet the level of service expected from us for the term of their lease.”

According to the review, SHD would complete the project in 1,989 days, while it would take the city 2,825 days to finish the larger scope of work. Hamilton noted that SHD has begun the permitting process, selected vendors and started on designs, giving the developer a significant head start over the city.

Hamilton said it would cost St. Petersburg about $63 million to handle the project internally, including a substantial contingency allotment due to the nature of the work and cost uncertainties. The city estimates its total construction costs of $45 million, compared to $37.5 million for SHD. That is SHD’s minimum project cost, and city attorneys would include that figure in the lease – including a fee-termination clause.

If the city chooses the developer-led option, it will pay SHD $7.4 million to start the project.

Under the city-led option, St. Petersburg would receive all operation revenue and pay all operational expenses. The general fund must cover any losses – which city officials said is likely during construction – while the city would allocate any profits between the marina and general fund.

Under the developer-led option, SHD receives operating revenues and pays expenses. SHD would also pay rent to the city, including a base amount and percentage of revenues.

The city administration again recommended that St. Petersburg moves forward with a private contractor leading the renovations to the marina, which would require a confirmation from SHD of its guaranteed maximum project cost. City officials would then update the five-year lease agreement, and the matter would go before the full city council for approval.

“We feel very good about the process,” said Rob Gerdes, city administrator. “We know that the process was legal. We believe it was transparent. It was open; it was fair.

“That’s what we believe.”

Gerdes said that if the developer left after the five-year term, forcing the city to purchase the improved assets, it would still come at a cheaper price than completing the project on its own. “That’s really our maximum risk,” he said.

Although council members were not voting to accept the agreement, they were still apprehensive.

Council Chair Gina Driscoll noted the review used the term “a developer” and SHD’s name interchangeably and said the company is not the only entity capable of completing the work. She also relayed that the process began with an unsolicited bid from another company. “We have options,” she said.

Gerdes said the city not selecting the unsolicited proposal was indicative of the transparency of the project. He added that issuing a request for proposals and further delaying the process would incur increased costs and financial risks, and the city administration is opposed to such a measure.

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz expressed her frustration at the city letting the marina fall into such a state of disrepair. Screengrab.

Councilmember Lisset Hanewicz asked what the service life was for the marina. Hamilton said it was 50-years in accordance with previous building standards. Hanewicz then noted the city built the Central Basin in 1963, the South Basin in 1976 and the marina bulkheads in the 1910s and 1920s.

“All of a sudden, it’s like a fire we have to respond to,” said Hanewicz. “And these are our limited choices because we’re at this point.

“Now we have to find a way out, and we have options that are not palpable to city council members … and maybe that’s why we’re getting pushback from some of the citizens.”

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders clarified that Thursday’s resolution was to finalize contractual details before further discussions at a city council meeting. She said her first priority was the residents living at the marina, and she wanted additional information on the matter.

Figgs-Sanders said she did not believe the presentation was an “apples-to-apples” comparison because the city’s projected costs accounted for a much larger scope of work. Figgs-Sanders also noted that the public could speak on the matter at a city council meeting.

“I’m not comfortable with a yes or no,” she said. “But I’m definitely not wanting to end the conversation because we have too much to invest – and I think as a city, too much to lose.”

Following a split vote, the committee approved a resolution to finalize details before bringing the matter back before the city council. Joe Zeoli, managing director for the city, said he would meet with SHD and the legal department and provide a timetable for the next update “as expeditiously as possible.”

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Amy Baxter

    Amy Baxter

    May 2, 2022at1:37 pm

    How is SHD back on the table? Keep the municipal marina a municipal asset. It is profitable. The City needs to undertake these repairs and not strong arm residents into giving SHD an enormous fee-termination clause when their extremely unpopular plan finally does come to a vote by the people aft er the initial five-year lease ends. City Council must shoot this down immediately and create a plan, in earnest, to modernize and repair the marina itself. SHD’s plan is terrible for boaters. 40% of small boat owners in the marina would lose their slips and be subject to enormous prices increases under SHD’s plan. Let’s not forget CEO Darby Campbell has explicitly stated his goal is profits. Why is the City Administration touting SHD once again? Something is missing despite their “open” and “fair” declarations.

  2. Avatar

    Hugh Hazeltine

    May 3, 2022at6:10 am

    On the same day as this meeting, April 28, Darby Cambell of SHD was giving testimony to the Ft. Myers City Council. Ft. Myers is undergoing the same process for their marina and are considering 4 different developers for the rehab and then to operate the marina. Mr. Cambell promised to bring a Margaritaville theme to Ft. Myers. He showed a rendering of our ship’s store in Margaritaville colors to the Ft. Myers council and told them he was doing this work in St. Petersburg. Mr. Cambell knows he has not been awarded this lease yet and that the Margaritaville theme was loudly rejected for our Marina. This testimony can be viewed online.

  3. Avatar

    Janet D

    May 3, 2022at11:27 am

    We certainly don’t need bright colors to “cheapen” the look of the marina and make it “cheesy “!

  4. Avatar

    Tom Barry

    May 3, 2022at4:23 pm

    Not even a year ago, The people showed up and tore apart the argument to turn over the muni docks to developers. You missed so many very key points in your article. The docks can be replaced for essentially chump change, just put this out to bid to LOCAL CONTRACTORs. Start with Duncan Seawall, the one of largest on the west coast. The present docks are generating over 3 million a year in revenue for the city. The city should have been reinvesting money back into the docks, building a new one each year. After a great 50+ year return on investment, ROI, it’s insanity to change from what’s worked so very well for the waterfront for over half a century.

  5. Avatar

    Richard Philip Blommaert

    May 3, 2022at5:37 pm

    The City is again proposing to turn a tax payer funded public facility, which has been the City’s primary profit center, over to Safe Harbor Development, a private corporation that has no experience operating / renovating a large salt water marina. Additionally, the City would retain responsibility for the replacement of neglected infrastructure, which is a major portion of renovation costs.

  6. Avatar

    William C Felder

    May 3, 2022at5:41 pm

    Commercializing this area with a private company would completely ruin the accessibility for local boaters. We don’t want a margaritaville, SHD, or a private company to destroy the charm of one of the already most popular waterfront parks. The theater, arts, and access to local boating that goes on in this area is thriving. To give up control to a company inevitably set on corporate greed would lead to the character destruction of our waterfront. I don’t know how many people have spent time in Miami but it isn’t anywhere near accessible for the common boater and a complete aesthetic eye sore with tacky chains lining the waterfront. Keep Saint pete charming and thriving

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