Indian Rocks Beach welcomes boaters of all types to dock for free during the day at its public docks on the Intracoastal Waterway. Within two blocks of the docks, visitors will find more than a dozen restaurants, shops and attractions.
Bill Demarest gazed at the new floating boat docks on the Intracoastal Waterway side of Indian Rocks Beach. "Every town should have one of these," the boater said.
Demarest had tied up his 22-foot Sailfish and, with his wife, two young daughters and their friend, were headed to get lunch a couple blocks away at Slyce Pizza Bar.
"IRB has some of the best places to eat on the beach," the Madeira Beach resident said. "We were probably some of the first people to use the docks."
Since the free public docks, which accommodate 18 boats, opened this spring at Keegan Clair Park, at the end of Second Street and Miami Avenue, they've drawn about 50 boaters a day on weekends, the only time a dockmaster is present to keep records, said Dean Scharmen, public services director.
"Overall, people are just absolutely fascinated and thrilled that the city would do this," said Scharmen, who oversaw the $550,000 project. "From the docks, you can walk to over 12 restaurants and shops in a two-block district, and 300 yards away is the Gulf of Mexico."
Pinellas County has about 47,700 registered boats, second only to Dade County. Most dock users come from between Tarpon Springs and St. Petersburg and are driving anything from personal watercraft to powerboats.
Shawn Byrne of Treasure Island, returning to his 30-foot Scarab, said he was pleasantly surprised to spot the docks.
"I was just cruising by and saw a dockmaster and the sign on the piling that said "courtesy dock," so I checked it out," said Byrne, who was on his way back from Jimmy Guana's, a restaurant and bar complex at the Holiday Inn Harbourside, a 1-minute walk away. "It's rare to see something as nice as this and free."
Nonmotorized boaters such as kayakers and standup paddleboarders have a place to dock or launch as well, partly thanks to input from Steve LeVine, owner of Watersports West in Largo and a longtime Indian Rocks resident.
"I was really happy with the outcome," LeVine said. "A nice path with steps runs right into the water and it goes to a beach for easy launching."
The docks are also convenient for pickups, boat captain Jim Labadie discovered. Labadie, a city councilor and co-owner of Colonial Court Inn, often takes guests on fishing and sightseeing tours.
"I used to have to meet them at the Belleair Causeway boat ramp 3 miles away, and they had to pay for parking. Now they just walk across the street."
Local businesses are equally buoyant about the project. Many, including Slyce and Jimmy Guana's, have experienced an increase in customers, and some are actively courting boaters.
At Impressive Designs & Florida Wines, a gift and wine shop a block from the docks, owner Bev Malley added chilled wine in pouches and plans to sell microbrews.
At Slyce, which has indoor and outdoor seating, hungry boaters have increased sales and inspired new services.
"First we started delivering pizzas to the docks," said co-owner Ken Gillespie. "Then, because there wasn't always room or boaters didn't want to stop, we added delivery by water. Now we have a Slyce jet ski and we go out to boats."
Paul Jenkins Jr., general manager at the landmark Crabby Bill's, sees the docks, two blocks from the restaurant complex, as a catalyst for further development of the business area.
"I'd love it to be a centerpiece for IRB," Jenkins said. "We're extremely excited about it."
Area maps already are posted, but Jenkins and other merchants are working on a welcome kiosk at Keegan Clair Park that will provide boaters and other visitors with detailed information on nearby sights and businesses.
This story originally appeared at Visit Florida.