Increases Proposed in Marina Slip Rates
Charterboat Operators Uniting in Opposition
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The City of Clearwater learned a great deal during their preparation for the Downtown Boat Slips referendum earlier this year. Perhaps the biggest eye opener was a study by Applied Technology Management (ATM) that determined a market rate for slips in the Clearwater area will be $15.50 per foot per month by 2009, the year the downtown facility is projected to open.
Meanwhile, private non-commercial tenants at the Municipal Marina on Clearwater Beach have been enjoying slip rental rates far lower than ATM's market study suggested, even after a 10 percent increase that went into effect on June 1. Clearwater residents now pay $5.29 per foot per month and non-residents pay $9.14. Clearwater's rates are so attractive that the waiting list for the marina's 112 recreational slips exceeded 300 names before it was recently limited to 50 for administrative reasons.
The bargain is about to end if Bill Morris, Clearwater's Director of Marine and Aviation, can convince the City Council to adopt the 5-year business plan he has developed. Rates would rise by 15 percent effective October 1, then at 25 percent per year for the following four years.
The slip rate per foot per month for a non-commercial boat owned by a Clearwater resident would rise to $6.08 in October of this year, and wind up at $14.84 in 2011/12. For the owner of a 30-foot vessel, the monthly slip rate would rise from today's $158.70 to $445.20 in 2011/12.
For non-Clearwater residents, the monthly rate per foot would increase to $10.51 in October, $13.14 in 2008/09, and $15.75 in 2009/10. Having reached the market rate projected by ATM, the non-resident would then see an increase of 25-cents per foot per month in subsequent years. For the non-resident owner of a 30-foot vessel, slip rent would increase from today's $274.20 to $472.50 in 2009/10.
The Municipal Marina's commercial tenants would also face steep increases. Morris gave a preview of his plan to a group of commercial boat operators during a meeting on May 18th. "I am definitely under the gun to generate revenue back to the city," Morris told them, "I've been asked to provide a plan to bring slip rental rates, both commercial and private, more in line with market rates."
Morris explained that his 5-year rate plan would nearly double the monthly slip cost for commercial operators by 2012. Unlike private vessels, Clearwater's commercial slip rates are determined by passenger capacity. The slip rental for a resident-owned 6-passenger fishing boat would rise from today's $339.05 to $678.20 in 2012, while the 123-foot dinner cruise boat Starship II would see an increase from today's $977.34 to $2124.95 per month in 2012. The plan also includes a reduction in the marina's commercial fuel discount, effectively raising the cost of diesel by 7-cents per gallon.
As you might expect, Morris' plan was not well received by his commercial tenants. Captain Harry Russell of the Tom Cat II complained that while his revenue has been declining due to the loss of beach motels and parking, the city is proposing to increase his costs; "It will drive us out of business," Russell said of the slip rate and fuel increases.
Ginny Stacey, owner of Wild One and Fanta Sea fishing charters, estimated that the combined effect of increased slip rent and fuel cost would add about $100 to the cost of each half-day charter-fishing trip she runs. That's not a cost that Stacey thinks can be borne by her customers, nor can her business absorb it.
Just as the city's effort to eliminate back-out parking on Coronado Drive drove small motel owners to organize in opposition several years ago, the city's plan to increase costs has united the marina's commercial boat operators. "All the boat owners here, the wave runners, dinner cruises, fishermen and excursions, have gotten together and we are going to form an association because we can't withstand a 25-percent [annual] increase," said Stacey, "We have to be one to fight the city."
"We never had an association before," Stacy explained, "We couldn't get everybody, the wave runners, dinner boats and the rest, on the same page until now." The association will be formed by August 1st, Stacy said, ready to fight the planned October 1st increases.
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