Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter-News Analyst
In what appeared to be an ill-considered move, City Commissioner Charlie Corbett, supported by fellow commissioner Sarah Pelican, attempted to end the city’s contract with Westrec Marina Management during the October 2, 2012 regular Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting. Their motion to give Westrec 90-day notice to terminate the lease agreement with the city failed on a 3-2 vote following considerable commissioner discussion, a Westrec presentation, and strong statements of support for Westrec’s management of the city marina from two members of the public. Neither City Manager Joe Gerrity nor the local business community spoke on the issue.
Both Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch and Commissioner Tim Poynter seemed mystified by Corbett’s desire to end the city’s relationship with Westrec. Bunch asked Corbett what he would propose as an alternative (Click on photo of Commission Corbett for 1 minute video) and how he would propose to pay for marina personnel and operations. There was no response. Poynter asked why Corbett was suggesting this. Corbett responded that he was not saying he was not happy with Westrec’s management of the city marina, but that they have been on the job almost 3 years, had fixed many of the problems, and that the city would now be able to take over the job. He added that under the contract, the city pays Westrec $108,000 annually plus one percent of the profits. Corbett believed that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
Bunch stressed that the city does not have the money in the current budget to take over this operation and run it successfully, stating that it would take more than $108,000 for the city to run the marina if you factor in salaries and benefits for the current marina staff of eight. He also asked why Corbett had not raised this during budget workshops. Poynter asked Corbett to remember what the city marina was like before Westrec took over management: overdue and uncollected slip rentals; illegal activities in dirty bathroom facilities after hours; poor or surly service to boaters. He said that he had gone from receiving hundreds of complaints about the marina to receiving regular compliments.
Mayor Arlene Filkoff invited Westrec representatives to make their presentation and respond to questions. Gary Groenewold, Vice President, Southern Area Westrec Marinas, spoke from the podium. He was assisted by John Louis, Regional Manager, Westrec Marinas. Through his slide presentation, Groenewold demonstrated progress at the city marina since 2009. He said that Westrec had “returned the marina to industry standards” and instituted a regular maintenance program that had never before existed. Under Westrec’s management, Florida Department of Environmental Protection designated the city marina as a “Clean Marina,” a strong selling feature for potential customers. Westrec has worked with the city’s Fire Rescue Department to implement a working fire suppression system for the first time. Through a rigorous employee and customer service training program, Westrec has instituted a system that, according to Groenewold, insures “precise accountability with nothing falling through the cracks.”
Additionally, through its corporate budget and boat shows, Westrec provides the city with $192,000 of advertising and marketing at a cost to the city of $5,500. Just this year alone, 72 boats visited the city marina for their annual Marine Trawlers Association gathering. The boaters were so impressed with Fernandina Beach that they have done the unprecedented: booked a second consecutive gathering in the same location. During their visit they bring considerable business to local restaurants and shops.
Groenewold also itemized the investments that Westrec has made in the city marina:
- Remodeling and furnishing facilities for both boaters and marina staff;
- Adding computer hardware, Wi-Fi and proprietary software;
- Providing a shop with $22,000 of inventory;
- New signage;
- Power pedestals for larger yachts;
- Company truck for daily marina operations.
Should the city end Westrec’s lease with the city at this time, the city would be required contractually to repay 40% of the cost of all Westrec’s capital improvements.
Westrec’s annual profit for the first two full years of operation without the city’s debt service was $308,000. That number dropped to $222,000 in 2011-12 because the dredging operation forced a 2-month closure of the marina. The projection for 2012-13 is up to $288,000. Groenewold did not respond directly to Bunch’s statement that Westrec had projected a rosier scenario of annual profit — $800,000 – at the time they were awarded the contract. However, Commissioner Tim Poynter defended Westrec, claiming that the situation Westrec was faced with was considerably worse than the city had initially presented.
City resident Lynn Williams claimed that even today the city has yet to provide the uniform water depth of 6 feet as promised, thereby limiting slip rental income. Doug Bailey, a city resident and boater, recapped the state of the city marina today compared with the previous situation when it was managed by the city. He advised commissioners, “Let business do what business does best, and let the city stick to providing city services like police and fire protection.”
Commissioner Sarah Pelican referenced an amendment to the original Westrec lease that stated that beginning on December 1, 2010, Westrec would pay a monthly base rent of the greater of $2500 or 25% of monthly gross retail sales. This was affirmed by Mr. Groenewold and City Attorney Tammi Bach.
Mayor Arlene Filkoff publicly stated her appreciation for the job being done by Westrec’s city marina manager, Joe Springer. She said that Springer is an active member of the local community and that everywhere she goes she hears good things about him and his operation. Springer recently achieved the distinction of “certified marina manager.”
Despite the Westrec presentation, commission discussion and public comment, Corbett and Pelican stuck to their guns and voted to end the Westrec lease. Since no other commissioner joined them, it appears that Westrec will continue managing the city marina … at least for now.
October 3, 2012 5:00 p.m.