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Revitalizing the Miami River

Proposal for a drystack/residential/office complex is just part of a plan to reinvigorate pleasure boating
A rendering depicts the megayacht area of SeaVault, one of the projects that advocates say would breathe new life into the once-thriving Miami River waterfront.

A rendering depicts the megayacht area of SeaVault, one of the projects that advocates say would breathe new life into the once-thriving Miami River waterfront.

Chapman Ducote’s core business — credit card processing — is pretty straight-laced, but the president and CEO of Merchant Services Ltd. in Miami Beach also has a wilder side: LeMans race-car driver, partner in a boatbuilding business and a role with wife Kristin in five episodes of the Kardashian sisters’ reality TV series “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.”

Can we say he has a lot of irons in the fire? “A little too many,” says Ducote. “I’d love it if I could simplify my life.”

That doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen any time soon. Ducote says he is easing out of race-car driving — it takes up too much of his time — and the Kardashians have moved on to other reality ventures, but now he is pushing the pedal to the metal expanding his involvement in Miami’s marine business world.

Ducote is director for the Americas for Swedish boatbuilder Delta Powerboats and managing director of Miami Boat Storage, a partnership of AL US Investments, Quillpoint Capital Investments and War Chest River. He saved a Miami River property from foreclosure when his Miami Boat Storage bought a little over an acre of waterfront on the Seybold Canal where it meets the Miami River for $3.65 million.

His plan: build a high-end drystack and a 12-story low-rise with retail space and contemporary live/work lofts — condominium units with a residence on one side and office on the other — one residence with office per floor.

One of the driving forces behind the Miami River revival is Chapman Ducote, a marine entrepreneur, race-car driver and onetime reality TV personality.

One of the driving forces behind the Miami River revival is Chapman Ducote, a marine entrepreneur, race-car driver and onetime reality TV personality.

“It’s a new approach. We’ll be delivering a lot of square footage and selling it at a very, very reasonable price,” he says. The drystack is much needed in Miami after a recession that deep-sixed a lot of projects. Drystack slips are a scarce commodity in Miami. There are no vacancies on the river, Ducote says.

The drystack’s size will depend on its layout and on how many slips he can get permitted under manatee protection rules, which don’t allow any net growth in the number of slips on the river. Ducote expects that it will be at least a year before groundbreaking while he works on details and addresses neighbors’ concerns about the size of the project. In the meantime, Campeones Boatyard, the land’s current occupant, will continue to operate as a tenant, Ducote says.

He says he’s eyeing other properties on the river, as well. “Miami has Biscayne Bay, Stiltsville, excellent fishing grounds and is a beautiful waterfront city,” he says. “I want to help continue to foster growth in the maritime industry here, and this marina development is a much-needed project for our city.”

Ducote, who has an office for Delta Yachts America in Miami Beach, keeps Deltas at his dock at home and services them at RMK Merrill-Stevens on the Miami River. Delta builds boats from 26 to 54 feet in carbon fiber, using Divinycell coring and resin infusion technology. In 2012, Inc. 5000 named Merchant Services Ltd. the nation’s 18th-fastest-growing private company. Its 2011 revenue was $14.1 million.

Ducote’s proposed drystack/residential-office project is just the latest of several on or near the river that are helping to reinvigorate pleasure boating.

SeaVault, 14 megayacht slips with attached shed or living quarters for captain and crew and secure vehicle parking for each slip, will replace 40 dilapidated covered slips on the Miami River’s south shore west of 22nd Avenue. Also planned: a clubhouse, tennis court, pool and cold storage building. Formerly the Brisas del Rio Marina and before that Florida Yacht Basin, the property has been a working marina for decades. Some of its structures go back to the 1940s and ’50s.

Also, Apex Marine, the yacht yard that had been at the former Allied Marine facility on Fort Lauderdale’s New River, relocated in July to 2051 N.W. 11th St. on the South Fork of the Miami River. The Related Group declined to renew Apex’s lease on its Fort Lauderdale property and plans to build a residential high-rise there.

The SeaVault project would include residential quarters for the captains and crews of megayachts.

The SeaVault project would include residential quarters for the captains and crews of megayachts.

Formerly Royal Palm Marine and before that Consolidated Marine and Miami River Marina, the Miami property recently was purchased by Finlay Matheson, who is leasing it to Issy Perera’s Apex. It will be twice the size of the Lauderdale facility. Besides Miami, Apex has yards in Stuart and a newly opened yard in Pompano Beach.

Though not on the Miami River, Mehmet Bayraktar’s Island Gardens — a $1 billion mixed-use development that includes two luxury hotels, a residential tower, a luxury retail shop, upscale restaurants and a 50-slip megayacht marina for vessels as large as 550 feet — is expected to open its marina by year’s end, in time for the February 2016 Miami International Boat Show and the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, which plans to use the marina as a venue for some of its deep-draft megayacht displays.

And RMK Merrill-Stevens, the historic Miami River yard that Turkish billionaire industrialist Rahmi M. Koç purchased, plans to modernize and upgrade its 6-acre facility, which dates from 1923 and works on boats to 250 feet.

“We’re seeing a revival of the recreational marine industry on the Miami River,” says Horacio Stuart Aguire, chairman of the Miami River Commission, which oversees planning and development on the river. “The commission recognizes the economic value of the marine industry, as opposed to turning the river into a concrete canyon.”

Aguire says the commission aims for a balance on the Miami River among residential high-rises, which dominate downriver; single-family homes, recreational marinas and boatyards, which are mostly mid-river; and commercial shipping and fishing, which are concentrated upriver. “The river is perhaps overly gentrified right now,” he says, so he’s pleased that plans for marinas and boatyards are on the table again.

With Island Gardens coming on line, he foresees an uptick in megayacht slips and traffic on the river, and more business for the river’s large-yacht yards. “The captains and crews want to come to Miami, where the fun and the vibrancy is,” he says. “A lot of these crews are international crews,” and they like Miami’s international flavor.

He also foresees a surge in traffic in shallow-draft freighters to and from upriver freight and shipping docks, once trade with Cuba materializes because most of Cuba’s ports are shallow-draft. The river’s shallow-draft freighters service mainly Haiti now. That’s going to change, Aguire says. “This is a big, big expectation among the commercial shippers on the river that that day will come.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue.


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