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St. Pete Beach gets federal grant for marina

ST. PETE BEACH — An idea to reinvigorate the city's downtown with a high-traffic marina got a major cash infusion this week when the city won $219,750 from a federal grant to build transient docks.

The 12 boat slips would be rented to boaters for short periods, whether hours or days — drawing people to the city's $8 million community center, waterfront park and, perhaps most importantly, to the shops and restaurants along nearby Corey Avenue.

"This for certain is a start," City Manager Mike Bonfield said Thursday. "We think we have a very good market for transient visitors. A lot of boaters from Mississippi to Texas pass through on trips to the islands. … We would like some of them to visit for a while in St. Pete Beach."

Nearby Gulfport's marina does "significant business" from transient boaters, Bonfield said. Getting some of that business would financially benefit both the city and area businesses.

The city is also considering re-routing traffic in the Corey Avenue area in an attempt to focus more attention on the business district.

The transient dock grant was part of about $10 million awarded to states and some cities by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service's Boating Infrastructure Grant Program, which focuses on promoting outdoor recreation.

The money awarded to the city is be used specifically for constructing, renovating and maintaining facilities for boaters staying 10 days or fewer.

Bonfield said the city must match the grant with about $91,000 to build the transient docks. The money must be included in next year's budget, he said.

The marina would be located just north of the bridge that connects the city to the mainland at Pasadena Avenue. The city's master plan for the proposed marina calls for four sets of docks for both permanent and transient mooring.

Each of the planned 12 transient docks can accommodate boats up to 40 feet in length.

Bonfield said a boardwalk would be constructed just off the seawall connecting to the floating docks and to a walkway between the city community center and Horan Park — and possibly under the bridge to allow pedestrians to safely cross to the Corey Avenue area.

During a 2010 discussion of the marina proposal, city officials described the Corey shopping area as a "marginally viable retail area."

Building a marina in the city's downtown has been discussed for years.

A referendum straw poll in the early 1990s proposing a marina was rejected by residents.

When City Hall moved to its present site on Corey Avenue in 2002, a marina was again proposed during planning to convert the former city hall site to a waterfront park and recreation complex.

Woods Consulting, subsequently hired by the city to evaluate the marina proposal, reported last year that the location for the proposed marina has sufficient deep water and no navigational issues.

The consultants cautioned, however, that the area is governed by a dock-building moratorium put in place by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which issued the city the grant, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The moratorium was issued because of the high number of manatee deaths caused by watercraft.

Because the marina design "avoids impacts to protected resources," the consultants felt the city would be successful in obtaining permits.

But before this first group of transient docks can be built, the city must secure permits from Pinellas County, the state and the federal government — a process Bonfield said could take up to a year.

Permitting a full marina is much more complicated, he said, and could take several years to complete.

The city's full marina plan calls for a total of 70 docks, 24 of which would be for transient boats.