In these lean times, no city wants to lose its businesses, so Wednesday the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and the city of Fort Lauderdale co-hosted a workshop to talk about creating a better climate for marine businesses.
The city is committed to economic development, creating jobs and preserving its marine industry, said Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler.
"Fort Lauderdale was founded on three industries - tourism, real estate development and the marine industry," he said. "All of them are critically important to the city. They are critically important to our families."
Industry leaders and business owners raised several issues:
• Megayachts: They need big-boat dockage, said MIASF executive director Frank Herhold. Some 1,500 visit the city annually. Each spends on average $488,000 while they're in Fort Lauderdale. Dredging is also critical, as the yachts keep growing, many to more than 200 feet. Dredging to 17 feet on the Dania Cut-Off Canal should begin this summer, followed by dredging on the Intracoastal Waterway in 2011 and the New River in 2013, said Susan Engle president, of EnviroCare Solutions International.
• Smaller boats: Seventy-six percent of registered boats in Broward County are under 26 feet. Cities' ordinances make it difficult to keep a boat on a trailer at home. The city and county need more boat ramps and more parking for trailers. The county has 38 boat ramps and 1,200 parking spaces - only 500 of them for salt water.
• Working waterfront: Most city waterfront is built out already. Marine businesses with waterfront are under pressure to convert their property to high-end residential. Water-dependent businesses will have to redevelop waterfront in the future. Herhold said city rules on "neighborhood compatibility" make it difficult for new marine businesses to find a suitable location.
• Taxes: Florida's 6 percent sales tax drives many boat buyers to other states where the tax is not so high to make their purchase.
• Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show: It must continue to have a home at the Bahia Mar Yachting Center as that property is redeveloped. Dredging along the ICW is critical to opening the show to the biggest yachts. The show needs a hospitality center for the "high rollers" from around the world who come to shop for megayachts. They expect to be treated like royalty.
• Permitting: Permitting - from the city, county, state and federal governments - is still too costly and time-consuming, and discourages businesses from moving to or staying in Florida.
• Dredging at the dock: State rules require marinas to provide mitigation for any seagrass they destroy while dredging. They must grow new grass beds at another site that is not state-owned bottom, said Kevin Quirk, who oversees the marina at Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort and Spa. He says there is no bottom like that left in the county to do this, so dredging for megayacht slips is stymied.
• Boat lifts: A new interpretation of city rules has cut the distance that boat lifts are allowed to encroach on waterways to the point that 90 percent of city waterfront are now disqualified for a boat lift, said Randy Whiteside, CEO of Neptune Boat Lifts. The city promised to look into that problem.
• Manatees: Save the Manatee Club has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate much of Broward County's waters (as well as many other state waters) critical manatee habitat, which - if approved - could result in significantly more restrictions on boating in the county and around the state.
Herhold said other regions are competing for the marine businesses and boats now based in Fort Lauderdale. Among them: Riviera Beach, Jacksonville, Palm Beach, Savannah, North Carolina, as well as Europe and Caribbean islands.
"Everyone wants a piece of the megayacht business," he says.
— Jim Flannery