FORT LAUDERDALE — “This is going to be — and is — the biggest Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show ever,” Show Management president Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III said at today’s press breakfast opening the 56th annual show.
The single largest event in Florida, the show this year has 1,500 boats on display, including 4 percent more boats in the water than last year, 2 percent more boats under 80 feet, 14 percent more boats from 80 to 400 feet and a 1 to 4 percent increase in all other categories, said Zimbalist, whose company produces the show.
“It’s good to see growth across all categories,” he said. “We’ve seen solid growth in 40- to 60-foot boats over the last two, three, four years. We’re going to build upon that. One of our objectives is to make that category grow.”
The show is hosting 137 yachts larger than 100 feet and five larger than 200 feet. “We’ve got the big boys here, too,” he said.
The forecast for the show is great Florida weather — sunny skies with just a few sprinkles, he said, a theme that Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler built on.
“If you’re here for the media breakfast, this is what it’s all about,” Seiler said — good Florida weather, the Florida lifestyle and boats.
“For 56 years, Fort Lauderdale has been the marine industry, and for 56 years the marine industry has been Fort Lauderdale,” he said.
The unemployment rate in Broward County, where the show is located, is 4.9 percent — the lowest of any Florida county — “and that’s because of the marine industry,” Seiler said. “It creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
The show’s owner, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, is organizing a job fair today at the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center that is advertising 300 marine industry jobs, said Phil Purcell, the trade group’s executive director.
The annual fall boat show has an economic impact of $500 million in the region, compared with $300 million to $400 million for a Super Bowl. Purcell said the show is like hosting the Super Bowl or World Series here every year.
Purcell, Seiler and Zimbalist recited a litany of recent and anticipated developments that should strengthen the South Florida marine industry and position it for the future: a $20 million dredging project on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale that will open the city’s waterways to ever larger superyachts; a massive redevelopment of the Bahia Mar Hotel and Marina that will secure an upgraded home for the boat show for decades to come; a request for proposals that will be unveiled Dec. 2 for an upgrade and expansion of Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas, which will include more dock space for very large yachts; and ongoing lobbying for superyacht slips at the convention center.
A panel discussion moderated by Soundings Trade Only and Anglers Journal editor-in-chief Bill Sisson brought Island Gardens Deep Harbor developer Mehmet Bayraktar, RCI Group’s Robert Christoph Jr., IGY Marinas’ Bert Fowles, Seven Kings Holdings’ Raymond Graziotto and Bellingham Marine’s Steve Ryder together to talk about the changing and evolving face of today’s marinas.
Marinas are vital to a vibrant and attractive boating lifestyle, Sisson said. Among the challenges marinas face are cumbersome regulation, loss of water access, fewer registered boats, the cost of boating and finding skilled staff.
“My biggest hurdle is regulation,” Ryder said. “I takes an average of three years to get the permits for our docks. There are overlapping layers and layers of regulatory review. It costs a lot of money.”
The boat show will continue through Monday.