Marina space dwindling in hot spots around the country


Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
MIAMI - For eight years, Rob Quinlivan has lived in his version of paradise - a 40-foot power boat docked in a public marina.
It's a life that's given him adventure, freedom and a way to experience the best of South Florida without the soaring prices of its red-hot real estate market.
"Where else can you get living on a waterfront property, you know, some of the best climates in the world?" said the 60-year-old manufacturing engineer.
But Quinlivan's slip fees have jumped $200 a month over the past two years, and he and other boaters are finding out the hard way that the real estate boom isn't limited to dry land. Public places to dock are getting harder to come by as developers buy up marinas to convert them into private slips for luxury condominiums in popular areas such as Florida and California.
According to the Boat Owners Association of the United States, the pressures of development are a real concern for the nation's estimated 13,000 public marinas, 11,000 of which are "mom-and-pop" family owned operations.
"These owners have put a lot of sweat equity into their facilities. They're getting up there in years and a developer comes along and offers them a big check, and it's attractive," said Scott Croft, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based association.
The real estate boom in prime waterfront areas has been accompanied by a surge in boat ownership. While the 12.79 million boats registered in U.S. in 2003 was down slightly from a peak of 12.87 million in 2001, top-ranked California and third-ranked Florida saw their numbers increase by 84,660 from 2002 to 2003, the Coast Guard said.
Pineda Point Marina in Melbourne on Florida's central Atlantic coast has witnessed the boom since the family owned business started about 15 years ago. The marina's 100 slips are always full, and manager Scott Jordan said developers have casually asked his father, the owner, about selling.
"I'm not saying that we're going to stay here no matter what," he said. "If someone was to come around and offered the kind of money that was a ridiculously high price. . ."
He said rising insurance rates and property taxes that accompany the real estate boom have also made the marina less profitable. Property taxes alone jumped 28 percent last year, from $11,713 annually to more than $15,000.
Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a state agency that handles boating access, is concerned about the marina situation and is awaiting the results of a study that will gauge the exact number of facilities lost to development.
"There is, at this point, little that we can do," said commission spokesman Willie Puz. "Because it's private property, we can't regulate it."
Lawmakers plan to introduce a bill in the Florida Legislature this year that would encourage local governments to preserve public marinas, Florida Association of Counties spokeswoman Kriss Vallese said. Some counties are also taking steps to keep marinas open - Palm Beach County recently approved $15 million to preserve one of its marinas.
Developers say the shortage of marina space is simply another part of the real estate boom.
"In a state like Florida, we have people moving into the state and one of the main draws is the water. That's a diminishing percentage of land as opposed to the number of people coming in. The one thing we can't grow is beachfront," said Jim Cohen, a principal with Boca Developers.
He said developers are also providing a service by modernizing some public marinas that have fallen into disrepair. His company, based in Deerfield Beach, also has set aside about 10 percent of the marina space at one of its properties for public use.
But for some boaters, that isn't enough. Jim Edwards, 39, originally from Florence, Ala., lives on his 41-foot sailboat with girlfriend and travels around the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Since leaving land 10 years ago, he said he has seen Florida change from an affordable place for boaters.
"It's a place for the wealthy who have the money to enjoy the waterfront," Edwards said. "If you don't have, you know, a big boat and a lot of money, they don't really want you."

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