CLEARWATER — Longtime boat captains and business owners at Clearwater Beach marina are behind the city’s plans to rebuild the aging harbor, but are awaiting details.
The Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina, which for decades has been home to Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, dolphin tours, dinner cruises, half-day fishing charters as well as private vessels, will be rebuilt and expanded over the next several years.
The $15 million capital improvement plan, scheduled through 2024, will use computer-aided design to configure slips, floating concrete docks, and utility lines to ensure the best financial and physical operation of the marina.
“In the next five years, everything is going to come out and be replaced with more modern, concrete floating docks,” Marine and Aviation Director Ed Chesney told the Beacon on March 14. “Nothing will be where it is now because the slips have been built over the years and nothing was really planned accurately. This will be a big undertaking.”
Capt. Chad Haggert belongs to a family that has for generations operated the Double Eagle II deep-sea fishing party boat out of the marina.
“I like the idea of new pilings and docks, and especially a new seawall as part of the renovations, but I’m hoping the city will do something about the lack of parking,” Haggert said. “When we have afternoon and overnight fishing, customers can’t find a place to park.”
Another party boat captain — who asked not to be identified — said the city should design floating docks that are safe with larger boats. The docks — especially useful in hurricane country — are designed to rise and fall with the tide. Because floating docks float, they are not useful for heavy loading or unloading, manufacturers warn. They can tip if a lot weight is applied to one side of them.
More importantly to this ship captain was whether dock houses and shacks built years ago on the stable docks have to be moved.
“I question how that’s going to work with our boats,” he said. “We also need to see how that will affect our office, which is out on the dock.”
Another question on marina tenants’ minds: Will fishing charter boats keep their places on the seawall when the city redesigns the slips? Some captains sign charters from diners who stroll the seawall after a meal. Tourists like the tradition of chatting with crewmembers as they clean their day’s catch.
“As far as our location goes, we have no clue,” the captain said. “Most of our customers have made up their minds from seeing our literature and these days, 50 percent sign up online.”
The man who is charged with keeping all the tenants in the marina up to date on the changes is Capt. Mike Colby, a 100-ton ship captain for 28 years. Colby, who grew up on the Texas coast and moved to Clearwater in 1980, is president of the Clearwater Marina Association. Though he doesn’t speak for individual members, he knows the marina well.
“I’ve worked in the marina as an operator since 1981,” he said. He captained boats for other owners and in 1995 bought the Double Hook, a 39-foot-long Stapleton sport fishing boat. He continues to own and operate that boat today.
“I know the restructuring of the marina, in terms of utilities, sewage, water and power are needed badly,” Colby said. “You won’t find a single business owner in that marina that isn't in favor of that part of the marina renovation. We have a very old water and electric sewer system.”
He also isn’t convinced floating docks will work along the seawall where the large party boats and dining cruise boats dock.
“Floating docks can’t be used on the seawall,” Colby said, “but they are appropriate in the recreational sector of the marina — but not the commercial area.”
Most tenants are waiting to see the new plans and what the city hopes to achieve, Colby said, including how much the city will charge commercial boat owners for slips.
As it now stands, the city charges commercial fishing and dinner cruise ships based on the number of passengers a boat carries, said Mike MacDonald, deputy director of the city’s Marine and Aviation Department. Other municipal marinas around Florida charge marina tenants based on the length of the boat.
The city also just increased annual slip rent and started charging commercial vessels for water usage, Chesney said.
Colby said the captains look forward to coordinating with city officials on the marina plans, but what most want is reasonable rent.
“It doesn’t matter if you call it a catfish or a sailfish, it all depends on what we pay in the end,” Colby said.
“Once the city has a design team together, our association will have input into the design details and be available to answer any questions the city has,” said Colby.