Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 25, 2020
The Marina Advisory Board (MAB) of the City of Fernandina Beach devoted the first 90 minutes of their Regular August Meeting on August 24, 2020, to the question of future management of the Fernandina Harbor Marina. After hearing presentations from both the Marina RFP Evaluation Committee (MREC) and Westrec, the MAB voted unanimously with one abstention to recommend to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) that Westrec be allowed to continue to manage and operate the Fernandina Harbor Marina for a year following the Marina’s return to full operational status. This vote makes the third time since March that the MAB has recommended continuing with Westrec, regardless of the offerings of other potential marina operators.
The question of continuing with Westrec or negotiating a contract with a new operator will be considered by the FBCC at their September 1, 2020 Regular Meeting.
The City Manager’s charge to the MREC was to evaluate the 5 responses from bidders to RFP 2020-02. One respondent — Coastal Marina Management — withdrew from consideration, leaving four firms for evaluation: Founders 3 Marina Management, Mobius Marina Management, Oasis Marinas LLC, and Safe Harbor Marinas LLC. The 4-member evaluation team met twice publicly to hear presentations from the respondents and to conduct their evaluations.
The MREC recommended Oasis Marinas LLC as the top contender, with Founders 3 Marina Management as a second choice.
Westrec, the current marina operator, did not submit a bid having been advised that they were already under contract with the City.
MAB members listened to a brief presentation from Westrec’s marina manager Joe Springer listing improvements and accomplishments during their ten plus years of managing the Fernandina Harbor Marina. Springer also read an email from Westrec executive Jim Frye. Springer presented revenue figures showing increased dockage and fuel sales during their tenure, interrupted only by Hurricane Matthew’s damages. He added that the City marina had hosted three gatherings of the Marine Trawlers Association and cited positive reviews of the marina posted on Active Captain. He thanked the MAB and the City of Fernandina Beach for its support over the years.
Nathan Coyle, MREC Chair, presented the MAB with his teams findings and recommendations following their review of those firms looking to replace Westrec.
Some MAB members looked skeptically at proposed revenue figures projected by Oasis Marinas, the top rated alternative to Westrec. Brian Arnold, representing Oasis, replied to MAB questions regarding his firm’s experience, their activities during slow boating periods, and their marketing efforts.
MAB members seem most concerned with Oasis’ financial projections for fuel sales and dockage fees. But MAB member Coleman Langshaw urged other members to look at Oasis’ ability to “broaden the shoulders” of the marina offerings with their reservation system, magazine and marketing activities.
MAB member Gerry Decker moved and Joe Blanchard seconded his motion to recommend that the FBCC delay any action to change the status quo until a new Commission is seated in December. This motion failed on a 3-4 vote, with members voicing concerns over politicizing the marina management decision.
MAB members acknowledged that Oasis had provided a good proposal and that the MREC had acted diligently and ethically in their evaluation of the bidders. But these factors were not sufficient for them to back off their earlier recommendation to continue with Westrec for the time being.
MAB Member Allen Mills moved and Member Scott Stewart seconded a motion to send the following advice to the FBCC: the MAB is not prepared to concur on the MREC evaluation at this time and reaffirms its earlier recommendation to continue its arrangement with Westrec for one full year following the marina’s return to full operations, at which time the City might issue a new RFP for considering a new marina operator.
The motion passed unanimously with the abstention of Member Coleman Langshaw, who cited conflict with his role on the MREC.
The Fernandina Harbor Marina has not yet returned to full operation, which is anticipated in the next 4-6 weeks.