Susan Hardee Steger
At the Fernandina Beach City Commission Workshop held on January 8, Joe Springer, manager of the Fernandina Harbor Marina (FHM), presented an overview of the City owned facility. According to Springer, Westrec a leading marina management company hired by the City in 2010, was asked to make the marina cleaner, safer, deeper, to interface with the neighbors, to get involved, and to make the marina better than it was. Springer believes Westrec has been successful.
Springer suggested commissioners think back to eight years ago when the City operated the marina and evaluate their performance. Springer is often asked what would happen if the City discontinued its contract with Westrec and began operating the marina again. His response is the marina would “slowly fall and then collapse.”
Springer listed a number of accomplishments made under Westrec’s management.
- The marina is now designated as a “Clean Marina” a designation received by only 10% of Florida’s 2700 marinas and one that attracts boaters.
- Active Captain, a rating service used by boaters shows improvement in its rating. When Westrec arrived, rankings were 2 or 3 on a scale of 5. Now Fernandina Harbor Marina is a “first choice” marina. Only 3% of Active Captain’s marina qualify for this designation. Rating now average 4.2. .
- Westrec participates in National Marina Day by holding an annual boat show. This year’s boat show is scheduled for June 8 and two local boat dealers and the Coast Guard have asked to participate.
- Marketing the FHM is an ongoing. During busy months when boaters are moving north and south, the marina is full. Marketing efforts are now directed to fill the marina during the off season. The Marine Trawler Owners Association will make a return trip to the marina after last year’s successful Rendezvous bringing in 75 boats. The Catalina Sail Regatta will arrive in June filling the marina with 50 boats.
- FBHM is active in Jacksonville Marine Association and uses this vehicle to attract boaters. Westrec personnel attends and participates, in the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show and the International Marina and Boatyard Conference as a Fernandina Harbor Marina ambassador at no cost to the City.
- Westrec presented to the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) to obtain money for dredging. They are seeking other sources for future funding.
- Westrec maintains the FHMARINA.com website allowing boaters to make reservations directly with the marina via the internet.
- Springer is a Certified Marina Manager, of which less than 300 individuals have qualified for this designation awarded by the International Marina Institute which is a subsidiary of the Association of Marina Industries.
- Westrec provided rapid response after tropical storm damage, repairs have been made to the breakwater, and bull rail on the breakwater is being replaced to extend life. Springer is working with the Regional Office to determine if metal plate reinforcement will work on the south end breakwater.
- A 12 year old pump out system was replaced and funding secured from the DEP Clean Vessel Act providing $18,000 of the $24,000 cost to replace.
- Boater count continues to increase. Prior to dredging, the marina had 9 usable “deep water” vacant slips. After last year’s dredging, the number of usable slips was increased to 27. Since dredging was completed, long term customers have increased from 46 to 66.
Commissioner Gass asked when the marina would be self supporting and Springer quickly replied, “Never.” Patti Clifford, finance director, said the marina does make money before loan payments and although the marina is not self supporting it makes a significant contribution to paying down the loan.
Gass also asked who paid marina salaries. Although checks are Westrec checks, salaries are paid by the City from revenue generated from marina operations. Marina employees do not participate in City pension plans, or City health insurance plans. Personnel and all personnel issues are a Westrec responsibility.
Springer encouraged commissioners to support Wi-Fi improvements at the marina to respond to customers’ needs. He indicated Wi-Fi could be an addition income source for the marina.
Overall, the cost to the City for the marina in the 2011-2012 budget year was $345,000. Included in this figure is the City’s obligation to pay principal and interest on an outstanding loan, although Westrec’s contribution reduces the City’s payment amount. Dredging costs are outside of the Westrec contract since state and federal funding is available to municipal marinas.
Last year’s dredging activities closed portions of the marina for 3 months. Springer noted that although dredging is taking place this year, the project is better managed and will be compressed into a shorter period of time. He anticipates numbers will be “much better this fiscal year.”
During the October 2, 2012 regular City Commission meeting, Commissioner Charlie Corbett, supported by the now current Mayor Sarah Pelican, attempted to end the City’s contract with Westrec Marina Management. The effort failed on a 3-2 vote.
January 22, 2013 8:30 p.m.