“Suntex made some other moves in terms of acquisitions, and we really respect people who invest in our community. It should be profitable for them to service the needs of our industry and the needs of the boat show for decades to come.” — Phil Purcell, president and CEO, Marine Industries Association of South Florida
In December 2017, David Morrison, managing partner at Taylor Lane Yacht and Ship, was in a quandary. “I have a boat coming in on the 7th,” he said, “and the boat that’s there can’t leave until the 10th.”
His facility in Dania Beach, Fla., performs large-yacht refits and has two docks. One is 200 feet long with 15 feet of draft, and the other is 327 feet long with the same depth. Both, at the time, were full.
While some would say his was a good problem to have, Morrison is among those in South Florida who disagree. “There’s not enough dockage and deep water for big boats,” he said. “The demand is there.”
Phil Purcell, president and CEO of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, agrees. “Once you get over that 150-foot mark in particular, the industry is absorbing every (dock) that currently exists,” he said. “If we go back each decade, the boats have gotten bigger and their needs are more complex. You don’t have to have a crystal ball to know that the industry is going to grow.”
The lack of superyacht dock space is why the proposed redevelopment of Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale is being watched so closely. Suntex Marinas of Dallas and engineering firm Edgewater Resources of St. Joseph, Mich., want the marina to accommodate six 300-foot yachts at a water depth of 17 feet. The new marina would have a convertible dock system to accommodate a range of boats depending on need. Suntex says the design would double the marina’s linear footprint of dock space from 3,000 feet to 6,000 feet.
“There’s clearly a shortage of slips 60, 70, 80 feet and above,” said David Filler, principal at Suntex Marinas in charge of acquisitions and new business development. “I can put two 50s in a 100-foot slip. I can’t put a 100 into a 50-foot slip.”
The Fort Lauderdale City Commission has approved the design that Suntex and Edgewater Resources submitted, and final permitting was underway in late 2017. The companies have partnered on other projects and are working with the city, which will retain ownership of the site. Suntex has a 55-year lease that basically gives the firm five years to get up and running. Then the lease commences and the company has a 50-year agreement from the date of occupancy. The rent is $1 million per year to start, with a percentage increase every five years. The city also gets a piece of the dockage, restaurant and gross revenues.
“The value is outstanding,” said Bruce Roberts, vice mayor and city commissioner of Fort Lauderdale. “It will help us with the boat show, which will be outstanding.”
Acting as project manager, Edgewater Resources plans to manage the permitting and overall construction process with the state of Florida and Army Corps of Engineers. Suntex expects to provide the funding and operate the completed facility.
The largest marina operator in Florida with 14 sites, Suntex employs more than 1,500 people in the Sunshine State. The management company recently bought Loggerhead Marinas.
“We like the economics of marinas,” Filler says. “There’s some research that shows they’re last in and first out when a recession occurs.”
While Suntex is better known for purchasing, managing and operating marinas than building them, Filler says the company takes on a renovation when the situation looks right. “We only do redevelopment where it’s crazy not to,” Filler says, adding that slip costs in Dade and Broward counties are at least twice per linear foot per month compared to other areas in the Southeast. “It costs the same amount of money to build a dock in Florida as it does in Virginia, so why not build it where the rates are highest?”
Purcell says the MIASF welcomes Suntex because the company takes a long-term approach to supporting the marine industry in South Florida.
“Suntex made some other moves in terms of acquisitions, and we really respect people who invest in our community,” Purcell says. “It should be profitable for them to service the needs of our industry and the needs of the boat show for decades to come.”
The estimated cost for Las Olas Marina is $20 million to $30 million, and the redevelopment would take place in conjunction with the city’s $70 million project to enhance the downtown area with a parking garage and boardwalk-style shops and restaurants. Access also is planned to the beach and a shuttle service.
“One of the goals the city has is to activate the riverfront,” said Ron Schults, principal at Edgewater Resources. “We’re going to create that with a 35-foot promenade and people-friendly places that will be a lot of fun.”
He says Edgewater Resources and Suntex submitted a base plan and several alternate configurations. The city selected the plan with the flexible dock system to accommodate larger yachts because the new Las Olas Marina would be one of sites in the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
“We’re basically designing two marinas: One is the marina that’s used year-round, and the second is how it interfaces with the Lauderdale boat show,” Schults says. “We’re working closely with show management in that regard so we can have utilities and dockage expand to meet boat show needs and still meet the needs of a year-round marina.”
Purcell supports the marina’s dual purpose. “The flex proposal that they’re working on, that they can amend based on needs, is important for the entire year and the boat show,” he says. “Show management has met with them in terms of trying to advise them in the best possible way to accommodate the needs of the industry in the next decade out.”
Often, a project of this scale would run into opposition from the public, but Suntex and Edgewater Resources tried to get out in front of any issues, holding meetings with residents of local condominiums to answer questions and address concerns
“One of the compliments we got in one of the city meetings is how the adjoining condominium association came to the meetings and voiced support,” Schults said.
Schults and Filler both said they hope to see the marina completed in time for the 2020 edition of FLIBS. Whether or not that happens, proponents say the new Las Olas Marina would help Fort Lauderdale maintain its position as the “yachting capital of the world.”
“The more big boats we attract, the more trades, the more jobs,” Morrison says. “If a 200-footer is sitting at the dock, there’s always workmen coming to the docks to do work.” n
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.