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Reinventing the marina

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BoatClubsAmerica’s boatyard transformations in Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale are helping keep the waterfront accessible


BoatClubsAmerica is doing its part to counter the condo confiscation of Florida’s waterfront by transforming old, rundown marinas into modern, country club-type boating centers.

Like many industry leaders, BoatClubsAmerica believes Florida’s boating-business future is threatened by the statewide trend toward non-marine use of the waterfront. Its solution is to buy up tired marinas and redevelop them into one-stop docking, storage, shopping and repair centers for boat owners.

Many in the industry say that kind of development is a step in the right direction. They have seen the number of Florida marinas steadily dwindle — their waterfront sites devoured by residential developers who recognize there’s more profit in high-rise condominiums.

As recently as 2000, South Florida was home to 19 major boatyards. Today there are 13. The six that were lost all were converted for residential development. What’s more, nine of the 13 remaining yards have received offers from developers, prompting wags to suggest the state bird should be changed from the mockingbird to the construction crane.


Four projects
Throughout the last decade, BoatClubsAmerica has completed the redevelopment of two marina properties — one in Bonita Springs and the other in Naples. It is working on two others in Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale.

With two marinas finished and two in progress, BCA president Ed Ruff has found a niche within the boating and real estate development industries. He has spent the last decade perfecting a business formula for BoatClubsAmerica by merging his experiences in the two fields.

Even today, with real estate prices in the dumps, waterfront is still waterfront, says Kelly Ruff, Ed’s daughter and spokeswoman for the company. It holds its own quite well in good times and in bad, she says.

“Marinas have been around for a long time, but a new kind of marina for boat and yacht owners hasn’t been invented in a long time,” says Ed Ruff, a residential real estate broker in Naples for 25 years.  “This is what we are trying to do right now as we build Fort Myers BoatClub.” The same holds true, he says, for the Fort Lauderdale BoatClub.

“There are some land developers who are fueled by architecture, some [who] are motivated by profit margin, and some who really like the idea of constructing and building. If I had to boil it down, I think we are inventors,” says Ed Ruff. “We are inventing something very different from the older marina business models.”

“We combine an upscale, amenity-based property for individual boat and yacht owners, with an all-inclusive, high-tech boatyard for marine industry professionals,” says Kelly Ruff.  “We are not one or the other. We are both.”

Years in the making
Ruff completed and sold his first marina development project, Barefoot BoatClub, in Bonita Springs in 1997. The original wet slips were priced at $32,500. Recently, one of these slips sold for $103,000. Today’s listed resale price of a 27-foot wet slip runs about $125,000.

The company completed its second marina transformation in early 2003 with Naples BoatClub, a 9-acre full-service marina with 167 boathouse slips and 47 wet slips, a 70-ton Marine Travelift, an on-site yacht dealership (Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group) and other marine-related tenants.


In 2003, BoatClubsAmerica sold 47 wet slips at Naples BoatClub for an average of $258 per square foot. The slips ranged in size from 40 feet to 110 feet. In 2006, a 60-foot slip sold for $475,000, or $416 per square foot.

Today’s market value of a 55-foot wet slip at Naples BoatClub is $495,000 (listed resale price.)
The marina’s property also includes a 10-unit residential development overlooking Naples Bay and Old Naples, built by another developer after BCA completed its marina project.

Ed Ruff says had he not jumped on the sale of the marina, it could have become another residential condominium on what was working waterfront.

“It’s a success story,” Ruff says. We’re making good money, and it’s still a marina.”
Depending on the size of the property and the length of the project, the cost of redeveloping Ruff’s marina properties ranges between $25million and $75 million, including land and permit costs.

Start to finish
The redevelopment of an old, tired marina begins by imagining something completely new. Everything is demolished — each seawall and each building. Even the ground under the water is dredged clean, according to Patrick Ruff, Ed Ruff’s son, who is general contractor and vice president of development.
One needs a huge amount of financial backing to get into this very capital-intensive investment, but it does yield a good return, says Jim Bronstien, a marina consultant. “You’re taking something, a marina that exists and is an eyesore, and bringing it up to date. It has a limited supply and big demand.”

Slowed by red tape
The permitting and zoning process is a huge hurdle, Bronstien says. It takes at least a couple years for approval by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and a host of state, county and municipal officials.

Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, lobbied for BCA’s Fort Lauderdale BoatClub last October to that city’s commissioners and planning and zoning board.


“You have to jump through a lot of hoops,” Herhold says. “Some of those hoops are very narrow and difficult to get through. I am glad BCA is taking an aging facility in a residential neighborhood and keeping it compatible with the [area]. But their plan was well conceived and our board approved it.”

Construction of the Fort Lauderdale BoatClub was expected to start later this year. But development plans are on hold until the economy and the real estate market improves. “We are waiting out,” says Kelly Ruff.
Purchase prices for wet slips of 70 feet are expected to be in the neighborhood of  $750,000 at the Fort Lauderdale club, and 35-foot dry slips will cost about $78,000.

One of the South Florida trade group’s resolutions is to keep and update aging marinas and boatyards. Herhold is pleased that marina development specialists and others are buying marinas and making clubs out of them.

Fort Myers progress
The Fort Myers BoatClub is under construction, with nearly a mile of steel seawalls and floating docks.
The inside slips will hold most boats up to 42 feet and the wet slips are designed for boats 47 to 85 feet. The inside slips average $75,000 to $270,000, and the wet slips average $256,000 to $625,000.

New floating docks with brick pavers are included in the purchase price. A 44-foot wet slip costs about $210,000, and a 35-foot dry slip costs about $53,900. MarineMax is a tenant at the Fort Myers BoatClub and a 40,000-square-foot service area is available for lease or purchase for other marine subcontractors.
Competition is encouraged among vendors to provide the ultimate in marina services, according to Ed Ruff.

The Fort Myers BoatClub is expected to have two resort-style heated pools with waterfalls, a billiard room, an 8,500-square-foot restaurant with outdoor seating, a banquet room with a catering kitchen, a fully equipped business center and conference room with teleconferencing capability, a fuel dock and a parts store. The developer has even donated office space to the local Coast Guard Auxiliary. Even the repair area is being decked out with six clean-space work bays, more like something you’d see at the headquarters of a NASCAR race team.


The developers are blending the idea of comfort and relaxation into every corner of the property with a long list of amenities that start with the words state-of-the-art or high-tech.

“We are a family business,” says Kelly Ruff. “We will always keep the tone of our properties with this in mind.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue.



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