Voters choose to retain working waterfront in Fla.

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While the historic presidential election was getting most of the attention, the marine industry in Florida was celebrating another hard-fought victory: the adoption of a state constitutional amendment to preserve working waterfront.

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In a state where boating is a way of life, advocates of the amendment argued that marine business owners are under pressure to convert their marinas, boatyards, drystacks, commercial fishing and other marine-related facilities to other more profitable uses, in part because of high waterfront taxes, which reflect the value of condominiums and other high-end properties in the neighborhood.

The amendment requires county assessors to set the value of working waterfront for tax purposes at its current use, instead of at its “highest and best” use. It passed with the support of 70.5 percent of Florida voters, with just a few returns not available.

The vote was 4,058,582 for the amendment, 2,663,346 against it. Volunteers worked for three years to get the amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The Florida legislature now must adopt a law implementing the amendment. A draft of that legislation was expected in December.

Exhibitor ranks double at drystack conference
The problem of water access attracted more interest to the annual Drystack Conference, with double the exhibitor participation this year.

“I think drystack is still a very hot topic because of dwindling water access,” says Kayce Florio, training coordinator for the International Marina Institute. “Marinas have to think more about moving inland.”

IMI presented the eighth annual Drystack Conference Oct. 26-28 in West Palm Beach, Fla. More than 125 marina industry professionals from around the world came to learn about the newest technologies in drystack storage and equipment.

The event included more than a dozen educational seminars, 22 exhibiting companies, and several networking opportunities. The conference concluded with an interactive session of industry leaders and attendees in a panel format.

At the close of the conference, 31 marina professionals embarked on a study tour of eight marinas and boatyards throughout Southeast Florida. Florio said this is up from the 14 who took the inaugural study tour last year. Participants were able to learn from marina managers about their best profit ideas and practices and later participated in a roundtable discussion with the tour hosts.

Luhrs consolidates in N.J., shuts down Florida plant
Executives at Mainship Corp. and Luhrs Corp. say the companies are relocating manufacturing operations to Luhrs Marine Group’s Millville, N.J., plant.

Beginning in January, Luhrs and Mainship models will be manufactured concurrently with Silverton and Ovation units. This will lead to the closing of the St. Augustine, Fla., plant, with the transfer of tooling to begin immediately. At the time, the company did not say how many staff reductions would result from the move.

“It’s all positive,” Brett Marshall, vice president of sales and marketing, told Soundings Trade Only. “We’re not saying anything negative about the move.”

Marshall says the move comes after an 18-month evaluation of the production and cost efficiencies that would be realized by the centralization of the Power Boat Division in Luhrs Marine Group’s Millville plant. Hunter Marine (the group’s fifth company) located in Alachua, Fla., — as well as Luhrs Marine Limited, in the United Kingdom — will continue their operations at their existing locations.

Landmark suspends sale of Dominion Enterprises
Landmark Media Enterprises announced it is suspending the sale of most of its remaining businesses, including Dominion Enterprises, the parent company of Soundings Trade Only, because of the credit situation.

“We are in the midst of an extraordinary economic downturn. The credit crisis has made it virtually impossible for companies to obtain bank commitments to help finance acquisitions,” said Frank Batten Jr., Landmark chairman and CEO. “And the recession has reduced revenue and earnings and made it very difficult to value a business. As a result, we have decided to largely suspend the sales process.  We are proud of our businesses and confident about their future — and will not sell them at a time of uncertainty at depressed values,” he added.

Motorcycle accident kills Nordic Tugs CEO Jim Cress
Jim Cress, president and CEO of Nordic Tugs, died Oct. 18 of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
Cress, born May 13, 1946, in Chicago, joined Nordic Tugs of Burlington, Wash., as a sales manager in 1989. He left the company in 1993 to start SkipperCress Yacht Sales, an Anacortes, Wash., dealer for Nordic Tugs. In 1996, Cress and a small group of investors purchased Nordic Tugs, and Cress had served as president and CEO for most of the last 12 years.

“Jim was passionate about Nordic Tugs, and this came through in all aspects of his lengthy career with the company,” says Jerry Husted, Nordic Tugs founder who retired last December.

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Cress is survived by his wife, three sons and three grandchildren.

Fountain lays off 70 but sees early recall
Fountain Powerboat Industries laid off 70 workers at its Washington, N.C., plant, but chairman and CEO Reggie Fountain says he believes the layoffs will be temporary.

“I think by February we can put them back on the job,” Fountain told Soundings Trade Only Nov. 5.

Fountain blamed the cutbacks on the economic downturn and the continuing slump in marine sales. He says the company, which still employs 270 workers, is building only the number of boats it can sell to avoid inventory buildup and to conserve cash.

In other news, Anthony A. Sarandes resigned from the Fountain Powerboat Industries’ board of directors for “personal business reasons,” according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The resignation, dated Oct. 27, was effective immediately.

Survey shows dealers are feeling the squeeze
A recent survey of boat, RV and power-sport dealers shows “negative” trends across the board for the third quarter, according to a report by RBC Capital Markets, with specific categories down in the 50 percent range.

“Dealers are under stress, especially in the RV and marine industries, where trends are worse and excess capacity is most pronounced,” analyst Edward Aaron said in the report.

The survey of nearly 500 dealers was conducted in mid- to late September. Of that total, 250 were boat dealers, representing a broad cross-section of the industry.

Boat dealers are most pessimistic about the current business environment and long-term outlook, the report said, and power-sport dealers the least pessimistic.

In general, 45 percent of dealers plan to cut expenses, 30 percent intend to cut orders, and about 20 percent plan to reduce prices in an effort to bring inventory more in line. Most of the boat dealers surveyed said they expect the rate of retail sales decline to improve in the next six to 12 months.

Zodiac plans to double production of RIBs
Zodiac of North America plans to double the size of its Summerville, S.C., plant and double production of its rigid hull inflatables at the facility.

The plant will grow from 40,000 square feet to 80,000 square feet, president J.J. Marie told Soundings Trade Only. He would not comment on the exact number of RIBs the company produces but said it’s “several hundred” a year.

“A RIB is a more efficient boat; we basically use half the fuel of a rigid boat of the same size,” Marie says. “We use less horsepower; we’re lighter weight. So it’s therefore less expensive to buy because we have a smaller engine. You don’t need a big truck … to tow it, you can tow it behind a regular car.”

Zodiac manufactures and assembles Zodiac Pro, ProOpen and Yachtline product lines in the Summerville plant. Marie said he expects the plant expansion will be complete in March or April.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue.

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