Late agreement saves Jacksonville show

Conflict with city resolved, but sale of riverfront site to a developer blurs the production’s future
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After a false start that made many think the 21st Southeast US Boat Show wouldn’t happen this year, the Jacksonville, Fla., event was scheduled to run May 19-21 after an agreement between the city and show organizers.

During the week that had been advertised as the show’s dates — April 21-23 — Current Productions president Jimmy Hill told local news outlets he was shocked to find he’d been locked out of the venue at Metropolitan Park when he thought his team was slated to move in.

The city of Jacksonville said the show was never scheduled, although organizers have been running ads and dealers had already bought space, because an outstanding bill prevented organizers from reserving a spot. Jacksonville spokeswoman Marsha Oliver told Soundings Trade Only prior to the agreement that the city advised Hill that it would not hold the dates until a final outstanding bill had been paid in full. After final payment was made in January “it was very clearly communicated to Mr. Hill that those dates were not available,” Oliver says.

After the news broke that the show had been canceled — a term the city disputes — the resulting few days of chaos worried prospective exhibitors, some of whom had paid thousands of dollars to display boats. However, the day before the show’s advertised opening, April 21, Hill struck an agreement with the city for the May 19-21 dates. “We’re looking forward to a great show,” a relieved Hill said at the time.

Although the Jacksonville Marine Association is not directly involved with the show, Hill says most of its members were at the meeting so they could approve the new dates. The trade group does not partner with or own the show, but it stepped up to help support Hill produce the event in any way possible, says former association president Buddy Haskell of Haskell’s Marine Sales and Service.

“We used to own the show, but don’t anymore,” Haskell said after the agreement was reached. “We’re just going to try to make it happen; we’re very positive about it. A lot of the dealers have put up a lot of money already, so we just want to make sure we’ve got a venue to sell boats in because that’s what we do — get people on the water. We’re just trying to look out for our dealers. They’ve got a lot of inventory here. It’s in the best interests of the dealers, of promoters and the city of Jacksonville.”

Haskell says the show will face another hurdle next year because the 70-acre parcel around the state-owned marina has been awarded to a developer. The Downtown Investment Authority selected a $500-million-plus proposal by an investment group owned by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan to develop the vacant Shipyards property along the Jacksonville riverfront near the Sports Complex, according to News4Jax.

The city-owned land is wrapped around a state-owned 90-slip marina, says Jacksonville Marine Association president Dick Boger, which means organizers will likely need to find a new home next year. “We don’t know when they’re going to start to bulldoze and start the project, so to say it won’t be there next year is premature,” Boger says, adding that the group won’t know when ground will be broken until this summer or fall.

However, the Jacksonville Marine Association, which has 52 members, including 19 dealers, is “not mentally preparing for that boat show next year to be at that location,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue.

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