Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 27, 2014 12:17 p.m.
Joe Springer, Westrec Marinas’ manager of the city marina, used his time during the June 25, 2014 FY2014-15 budget workshop to show the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) improvements made to operations under Westrec’s contract and plans for the future. The Westrec 3-year contract began on January 15, 2010 and provided for two one-year renewal options, both of which the city exercised. The second extension will expire on January 15, 2015. In 2012, Commissioners Charlie Corbett and Sarah Pelican mounted an unsuccessful effort to terminate the city’s agreement with Westrec. Without some action from the FBCC, the future of marina management remains up in the air. At Tuesday’s budget workshop, commissioners were mostly non-committal. Because Westrec representatives Joe Springer and Gary Groenewold left the meeting following their presentation but before discussion on extending their contract, the FBCC said little other than generally expressing a preference for year-to-year contracts, as with Billy Casper Golf.
Springer presented a series of slides illustrating Westrec’s position that the partnership brings a host of tangible and intangible benefits to the city. Westrec handles marina operations, human resources, physical plant and equipment, marketing and advertising, accounting and reporting as well as interfacing with local, state and federal authorities. Springer reminded commissioners that under Westrec’s management both retail and fuel facilities have improved, power pedestals and Wi-Fi have been installed, along with a boaters’ lounge. Marina revenues have risen under Westrec’s management. But service on debts incurred independent of Westrec continue to adversely impact profitability. Springer said that the marina revenues outpace expenditures until debt service is taken into account.
Springer explained Westrec plans for next year, all of which–dredging, additional mooring slips and welcome center deck– would be partially funded by government grants.
He presented the FBCC with a plan to add a deck to be covered with sailcloth to the welcome center. Such an action, he claimed, would address boaters’ concerns about needing more places to gather after facilities close daily.
Springer also told commissioners about additional dredging planned for the portion of the marina around the boat ramp. Springer asked, “Are we being good stewards of the city marina? Are we taking care of city money? The answers are yes, yes.” Expansion plans to add 60 additional mooring spaces are also underway. Springer and Gary Groenewold explained their proposed staffing changes would adjust to times of the year when marina traffic drops. The marina operation will close 2 hours earlier in the winter, allowing Westrec to convert two positions to seasonal employees. Groenewold said that Westrec would reduce its fee and absorb one seasonal employee.
Commissioner Johnny Miller thought the welcome center deck was “a fantastic idea.”
Springer concluded his presentation saying, “Energy breeds energy.”
After a short break City Manager Joe Gerrity reminded commissioners that they would need to decide soon whether to renew a contract for marina management services with Westrec, since their current agreement expires in January 2015. Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican asked if Westrec would be amenable to a year-to-year lease and asked if the FBCC would consider such. Commissioner Charlie Corbett said, “We need to talk with them. We can negotiate again. I’m in favor of renegotiating, since this contract is up.”
Gerrity said that Westrec’s current offer saves $24,000 per year.
City Attorney Tammi Bach reminded commissioners that some of the contract language involving penalties should the city terminate the contract are no longer in play. She added, “If you have a 90-day termination clause, it’s a 90-day contract.”
Pelican added that some contracts automatically role into a year-to-year contract, adding that she didn’t “see a downside” to such an arrangement.
Gerrity agreed to talk with Westrec and return the item to the FBCC for further discussion or action in July.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.