MADEIRA BEACH — The building of a high-and-dry boat storage facility at the city marina, which has been touted as a revenue producer and an exceptional “wow factor” for the city’s waterfront, is now unlikely to be built.
City Manager Robin Gomez told the City Commission at its March 23 workshop that he had found information about restrictions placed on the marina property when it was deeded from the state to the city that would likely prohibit the construction of a high-and-dry facility as planned. His source was a letter written in 2006 by the city attorney to the community development director.
Gomez, who became city manager last December, said the restrictions had not been discussed at any prior meetings on the high-and-dry topic. Among the requirements for the property are that any business must be operated by the city itself and cannot be leased to anyone else. That conflicts with the planned lease arrangement for having a third party build and operate a new boat storage facility along with the existing marina services.
The marina property is divided into seven parcels with differing restrictions on each part, Gomez said. What can be put on the property is very complicated, he said, “but in reality it would be very difficult to put a high-and-dry facility on the marina property due to the restrictions.”
Mayor John Hendricks, who has long considered construction of a boat storage facility at the marina as a pet project of his, promoting it as “very lucrative,” appeared to give up on the idea after hearing of the restrictions and their impact.
“If it’s not feasible, it’s not feasible,” Hendricks said at the March 23 meeting.
He spoke instead of putting a restaurant on the property, which has also been considered numerous times in the past, and in fact the existing Ship’s Store building was designed to allow a second story to be added for a restaurant.
“I’ve traveled a lot on the water and almost every marina that I stopped in had a restaurant,” Hendricks said, adding that restaurants bring in a lot of transient business for the marina.
But even with the restaurant, there are questions about where it can be placed to avoid violating deed restrictions.
“We need to do a little more legwork, and get it nailed down as to what we can do or can’t do with the deed,” said Hendricks.
Commissioner Doug Andrews said he was stunned that he and the other commission members had never seen the deed restrictions before now.
“We’ve been talking about (the high-and-dry) for the past two years,” Andrews said, “and now we find something like this that could have stopped this discussion two years ago, before we went down this road.”
Commissioner Dave Hutson commented that he had been “a little nervous” about having someone else run the marina, as had recently been proposed by Founders 3, a real estate development and services company specializing in marina projects.
“We’ve got some good people in the marina, and I don’t want to leave them high and dry, so to speak,” said Hutson.
Hendricks, Andrews and Hutson were the only commissioners present at the meeting, as two newly elected commissioners, David Tagliarini and Ray Kerr, will not be seated until the regular meeting in April, as prescribed by the city charter.
All three of the commissioners present agreed to look at other options for the city marina property. Replacing and expanding the onsite Public Works building to allow more of their equipment to be stored inside, and a possible restaurant, appear to be the most likely uses.
The construction of a high-and-dry boat storage facility, which had been highly touted as recently as last month’s commission meeting as something that “economically, works very well” for the city, now appears to be a dead issue.
Plans for parking garage advance
The city is making good progress in generating the revenue needed to build a parking garage on a city-owned lot at 130th Street. The land, on the west side of Gulf Boulevard, is near the beach and next to a crosswalk to John’s Pass Village.
Gomez gave an update on the money raised since the city raised the parking rate 50 cents per hour in all city-owned lots on Dec. 9 to help pay for the garage.
About $90,000 has been collected from the parking fee hike so far, and that will likely increase in March and April at the height of tourist season, Gomez said. He estimated $350,000 to $400,000 a year will be collected to pay for the garage, which will cost an estimated $3 to $6 million, depending on its size, 300 to 600 spaces.
“I’m very encouraged by these numbers,” Andrews said after hearing the revenue report. He said he expected the collections to be even higher than Gomez’s estimate, in the range of $450,000 to $500,000 a year.
All of the money raised from the parking rate increase will go towards paying for the garage. Plus, the city will get money from people paying to park in the garage once it is built.
“We’ll have the $6 million loan to build the garage paid off in no time,” Andrews said.
The No. 1 concern Andrews said he hears from residents and visitors is that they cannot find a place to park.
“This would help solve it,” Andrews said. “Building the garage is a no-brainer for me.”
Hendricks said the new parking garage will also cut down on traffic congestion.
“I see cars all the time circling around, looking for a parking place,” Hendricks said. “This will eliminate that.”
Calling the garage a “home run,” Hendricks said, “We will have revenue for the long term. I want to make sure the city has the money to do a lot of our infrastructure projects that have been ignored for a long time.”
Hendricks also said the city has one of the lowest tax rates in the county, “and I want to generate revenue to help keep it that way.”