By Wally Moran
Having stopped in Fernandina Beach by boat more than 50 times myself, and having led 10 boating rallies that have stopped here, I feel I need to comment on your marina fee issue.
Fernandina Beach is a gem along the Intracoastal Waterway for boaters making the seasonal transit north and south. Unlike many stops along the Eastern coast, Fernandina Beach is easily accessible from the water. With a vibrant, attractive downtown just steps away, it’s a favorite stop in Florida for many — myself included.
Your mayor commented at a recent city commission meeting about transient vessels being “millionaires’ yachts.” The fact is, the majority of boats traveling south aren’t “millionaires’ yachts,” they are typically 35 – 45 foot vessels belonging to retirees, people living on a fixed income of pensions and their savings.
These boaters are not people who blithely throw $100 bills at the peasants, these are people who watch their expenses carefully. In today’s economy, they are even more cautious. Painting them as “millionaires” does nothing more than mislead people on how to properly manage marina issues.
Then there are the thousands of people who come to town to go for a boat ride, or fishing, putting money in the pockets of local businesspeople. When all of these folks arrive in town, whether by boat or car, they explore, they spend money at restaurants, shops, boat supplies and more. They are a significant part of the health of your downtown business sector, and the marina is the door through which they come in.
Some of your elected representatives may see the marina as a money pit, a hole that sucks up taxpayer dollars. I wonder how many of them have the wisdom to see the marina as a facility that generates millions of dollars for the downtown merchants, that helps to ensure that your downtown remains the attractive and viable place that it is.
Without the marina, just how would your downtown fare? I think that question is rather easily answered, given the recent history following the hurricane that put the marina out of commission. The marina is a significant generator of traffic for your city.
Then there is Oasis, the marina management company. Your city commission needs to keep in mind the fact that Oasis’ interests are in keeping the operation profitable for Oasis. They don’t care about the financial well being of your downtown. That’s not what they are there for. So when Oasis asks the city to increase prices, it’s to benefit Oasis, not Fernandina Beach.
Unfortunately, the city marina has developed a reputation amongst boaters as an expensive stop. Here’s a review from last March in marinas.com:
“Nice concrete docks. The slips aren’t secure, no key cards to enter dock area. The showers are filthy, full of mold. No paper towels to wipe your hands using the toilets. The lounge is only open until 1700. Shockingly expensive for services.”
And for this level of “luxury,” the average millionaire – er, boater, is paying $100/night or more, plus another $6 – $25 for power. You can stay at a local motel for less than that, with a pool and other amenities, clean showers and 24/7 staff.
I have observed this recent trend of city administrations on the East Coast handing over a valuable marina asset to management firms. In no location that I can think of have services improved. In truth, services have typically been reduced while costs to the boater increase. How could they not? The beast needs to be fed, and inserting another entity into the mix guarantees higher prices.
Boaters lounge? Shut it down at 5 p.m., despite the fact that most boaters arrive late in the day and leave early in the morning and so, won’t be able to use it. Clean showers? If we have time. Gotta watch those profits.
The fuel issue. The city has lost 3/4 of a million dollars “due to myriad design and equipment flaws at its fuel dock.” Well, who is the genius behind this fiasco, and has it been corrected? Because of its location and the distance to the next marina with fuel, Fernandina Beach is a mandatory fuel stop for many boats.
Fixing whatever the problem is here should be a priority, since those fuel profits could go a long way towards lowering those losses being complained about. Is there anyone taking charge of this? Hello?
The Fernandina Beach city marina had a well deserved reputation as a friendly, well managed and reasonably priced stop for many years. My advice to your city commission is to hire a results-oriented marina manager — they’re out there — and dispense with feeding a profit-oriented company. Those profits can be used to the city’s benefit.
Wally Moran’s land base, though he is rarely there, is Orillia, Ontario. He says, “I actually travel pretty much full-time on my sailboat with my dog, Aduana, who I rescued from Cuba a number of years ago.” He retired at 47 to go sailing. Before that, he was a newspaper editor and publisher. He writes for a variety of sailing publications and gives seminars at boating shows. And yes, Fernandina Beach is one of his favorite spots in Florida.