S. Fla. boaters being pushed out of docks by megayachts, developers
By Joseph Mann
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted December 4 2006
Tom Thompson's 46-foot sailboat, Soon Reach, is a boat without a home.
"We've moved it to six different slips, trying to find something permanent," said Thompson, a Fort Lauderdale resident and computer programmer.
Soon Reach was pushed out of one space when a waterfront home was torn done to make way for a condominium, moved again when owners of a rented slip bought their own and left another space because it cost $600 a month.
It's now docked temporarily at a leased space on a Lighthouse Point canal.
"We may have to leave the area to find a place," Thompson said in frustration, noting that he bought a condo with waterfront space in Stuart.
Thompson's marine travail is unusual, but his basic problem -- the lack of affordable dock space -- is not. Boat owners in South Florida, one of the country's largest recreational marine centers, are running out of space as the number of boats is increasing. The problem is particularly serious for people with small and midsize vessels, up to 45 to 50 feet, which account for most of the more than 129,000 boats registered in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
A series of factors is contributing to the problem:
Waterfront property for marine use has been drying up as developers buy marinas and build waterfront condos.
Existing marina space and dry-stack storage sites are tight, and government regulations limit new construction. Many marinas are full and have waiting lists.
Some marinas and boatyards have been converted into high-end yacht clubs and "rackominiums," which either cater exclusively to yachts or sell slip space. One new dry stack project is selling each space for about $150,000 and up.
Even though some upscale marinas have available space, many families can't afford to pay $500 a month or more in rent.
And while boaters often keep their watercraft on trailers in driveways or backyards, some South Florida cities and gated communities either ban boats or place severe limits on storage at home.
Riverfront Marina on the New River in Fort Lauderdale, with dry storage capacity for 300 boats up to 40 feet long, typifies the region's space shortage.
"I get calls from people almost every day dying to get in," said Dean Ketcham, Riverfront's manger. The marina, which attracts customers in South Florida as well as other parts of the country, has a few spaces open for boats up to 24 feet. But there's a waiting list for larger boats. Rental fees range from $174 to $600 a month, depending on boat size.
Area marine industry leaders are worried the space crunch will turn people away from boating.
"The availability and affordability of storage space is a major concern," said Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, a trade group. "Without storage space, including parking space for trailers at boat ramps, people will be inclined to hang up the boat keys and pick up the golf clubs."
Amy Tolderlund, vice president-elect of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County agreed. "We're losing the working waterfront to [real estate] developers just as quickly as we can blink," she said.
What can be done?
One area boat dealer has found a solution: fine-tuning the business so that average families can keep a boat at home, despite local restrictions on boat storage.
"We used to sell boats up to 28 feet, but we realized customers would have to find a marina or a dry stack," said Joel Feeger, co-owner, with his wife Debbie, of Joel's Outboard Marine in Fort Lauderdale. Many of his customers couldn't find space or didn't want to pay for storage.
So the Feegers stopped selling larger boats and now carry smaller models, usually under 25 feet. "We tried to fit into the South Florida market and we've been able to grow by focusing on getting a boat in a someone's garage," said Feeger, who carries Hewes, Pathfinder, Ranger and Stingray boats.
Feeger sells trailers with adjustable tongues so that they take up less space, allowing customers to squeeze a 20-foot boat in a 23-foot garage.
On a broader scale, investors and local government officials are taking action, and marine groups are lobbying for new marina construction in South Florida.
The Town of Lake Park in Palm Beach County, for example, last year renovated its marina and provided more space for small and midsized boats. The marina, which charges $675 per month for a 30-foot boat during the winter season, opened 103 new slips for boats from 30 to 60 feet or more and added new parking spaces for trailers. But slips remain only for 60-footers.
Jupiter-based Loggerhead Club & Marina Group bought and refurbished nine marinas in South Florida, providing about 2,400 boat spaces. "We cater mostly to average customers, with boats in the 30- to 70-foot range," said Raymond Graziotto, co-owner of Loggerhead. Six months ago, Loggerhead opened its marina and club in Riviera Beach, which can hold 300 boats up to 50 feet, and about 100 spaces are already reserved. Space for a 30-foot boat costs about $525 a month and Grazziotto expects the Riviera Beach marina to be full by next year.
These and other expansions involve rebuilding old marinas. But building new marinas or expanding beyond existing space zoned for marine activity is on hold because of government regulation. In Broward County, for example, there are about 40 applications for new marinas and expansions before the county government, covering about 6,900 new slips. Some have been waiting three years.
One project in Fort Lauderdale got the go-ahead last week. Lauderdale Marine Center, one of the area's largest marinas and boatyards, secured approval for an 18-acre expansion at a nearby site. But the additional space will be used mainly for megayachts, or luxury vessels measuring 80 feet or more, not small boats.
Other projects remain in limbo, since several layers of state and federal government agencies must approve a master plan for the marine industry before any action can be taken. No one knows when a final decision will be made on South Florida's marine expansion plans, and environmental groups, worried that more motorboats will cause additional manatee deaths, are staunchly opposed to major expansions.
"It's difficult to see things getting much better in the foreseeable future," the South Florida marine group's Herhold said. "This industry has to jump through a gazillion hoops in order to expand"