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Madeira Beach still split over $1.63M marina

MADEIRA BEACH — Despite years of discussion and planning, the Madeira Beach City Commission remains split over what, if anything, to do about redeveloping its marina.

As of last week, the commission issued a narrow 3-2 "consensus" directive to include $1.63-million in next year's budget to "move ahead" on the marina redevelopment project.

Immediate issues include building a replacement ship's store, preparing engineering and architectural designs for the upland portion of the redevelopment, and replacing aging underground fuel storage tanks.

"To take this out of the budget would say this project is shut down and we are finished with it," said Commissioner Steve Kochick.

He quickly added, however, that actually spending the money "is another thing."

The proposed upland redevelopment project would include a high-and-dry boat storage area and a public works building.

The total cost to design, build and complete the entire project, including new docks, is tentatively estimated at more than $5-million.

However, the commission has yet to decide how to pay for it.

The 33-year-old marina, at 503 150th Ave. on the south side of the Tom Stuart Causeway, encompasses about 5.74 acres of upland and submerged lands. It currently has 83 boat slips, a small store that sells snacks, bait and boating equipment, an unusable boat ramp and a fenced parking lot for boats and boat trailers.

The facility has deteriorated, city officials admit. The city now operates the marina, but until about six years ago, it was operated by a series of leasing companies.

An $80,000 grant will help to rebuild the boat ramp, but the remainder of the redevelopment costs must be either subsidized by the city or covered by future marina revenues.

More than $3-million from the sale of the city's sewer system to Pinellas County, now held in the city's reserves, could be used to cover the planning portion of the marina project.

The city's finance director, Monica Mitchell, says the city could borrow money to cover construction costs either from a bank or from the city's general fund.

Commissioners insist the marina must pay back any loan, but at least one is skeptical that can happen.

"How is the marina going to pay it back?" asked Commissioner Nancy Oakley at last week's budget workshop meeting. "The marina is going to lose money in the long run. It will never be able to pay (a loan) back to the general fund."

City officials insist, however, that fees generated by an updated and expanded marina would be enough to pay back any loan and operate at a profit.

"There was a business plan done in the past that projects the marina would pay for itself," said newly appointed City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr.

"It's a great investment," said Commissioner Terry Lister at a previous workshop meeting. "When it is finished, it is going to be fabulous and it will pay for itself."

Planning and Zoning director Paula Cohen cited the "huge deficit" in both high-and-dry facilities and public boat slips throughout the county.

A 2006 study conducted by Pinellas County found the number of dry spaces for boats had declined by nearly 10 percent in just one year.

Recommendations to protect boating access to the county's waterways included a "partnership" with Madeira Beach. The county considered lending the city some $4-million to upgrade and expand its marina.

Largely because of Amendment 1 and economic conditions, that proposal is not currently under consideration, according to city officials.

Commissioner Sarah Nichols wants the city to hold off spending the $712,250 needed to build the ship's store. She argues all pre-construction plans should be completed first to ensure the buildings' designs are compatible.

Commissioners are also unsure if they want the public works operation to remain at the marina site.

"If we are going to do this, it needs to be a true marina," said Oakley, who is opposed to budgeting money for the marina project. "To junk up the city marina with trash trucks and other city functions is not the way to go."

Higginbotham said his staff is looking at other sites to park the city's garbage trucks and public works equipment and suggested the design plans could include a second option that would eliminate the public works department.

Mayor Pat Shontz and Commissioners Kochick and Lister directed Higginbotham to keep the marina project in the city budget. Final public hearings on that budget will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 and Sept. 23 at City Hall.

Madeira Beach still split over $1.63M marina 08/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 7:30pm]

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