Since November, the number of people paying $500 for the chance to rent a slip in Clearwater's planned bayfront marina has doubled. The number has gone from one ... to two.
While that's not an encouraging sign, there are some good reasons for the city to keep the boat slip project on track. But there is absolutely no good reason to proceed with a confusing, expensive process of deadlines, deposits and lotteries that may be holding some people back.
As it stands now, a lottery is scheduled in March to award slips in the marina. To participate in the March lottery, you must give the city a $500 check by Jan. 31. If you don't get a slip, you get your $500 back.
The city is asking people to commit even though no boat slips have been built yet. Construction of the slips is projected to begin in early April and be finished by October.
Back when the City Council approved the funding for the boat slip project, there was good reason to believe that a reservation and lottery process would be needed to fairly dole out the slips. The city had asked people to put their name on a list if they were interested in renting one of the 126 slips. The list quickly grew to 500. It now stands at 702.
But a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
First, gas prices at almost $4 a gallon led people to park their boats or even put them up for sale. Sales of new boats plummeted. Though gas prices are much lower now, some boat owners may not want to rent a boat slip until they see the economy rebounding. Some may be waiting to see if the slips really get built.
Those new conditions warrant a change in the city's approach. With only two people willing to put down earnest money, a lottery isn't needed. The city should cancel it and announce that slips will be awarded on a first- come, first-served basis. They should reduce or even eliminate the $500 deposit. Why put any unnecessary hurdles in the path of someone willing to contract for a slip?
Meanwhile, it wouldn't hurt for the city to advertise, widely and repeatedly and with pictures, that before the end of this year the project will be finished.
Council member Paul Gibson, who opposed the boat slip project from the beginning, wondered at last week's City Council meeting whether the city should cancel or delay the project.
It is a valid question, but the majority of council members seem inclined to proceed. Voters authorized the project by amending the city charter in March 2007. The city has the funding for the project. The permitting process is well under way. The contractor has been hired. Money has been expended by both the contractor and the city to get to this point. Costs of materials may be lower now than they will be in the future.
Also, there is more to the bayfront marina project than just rental boat slips. There will be hundreds of feet of side-tie moorings for transient boaters, public restrooms, a promenade and a fishing pier. Those are amenities the public can enjoy.
When the bayfront marina is completed later this year, it may have an unexpected number of empty slips. But it won't always be that way. The economy will recover, and eventually the waters around Tampa Bay again will be thick with boaters looking for a berth.