CLEARWATER - In advance of the public meeting on the city's proposal for downtown boat slips scheduled for January 17th, the plan was presented to a friendly group of "stakeholders" at an invitation-only meeting on last Friday. The attendee list included representatives from Opus South, chambers of commerce, MarineMax, and the Clearwater Downtown Partnership among others.
Mayor Frank Hibbard introduced the project by recalling the two previous referenda that involved downtown docks. The failed 2004 referendum bundled three issues into one question, the renovation of Coachman Park, the construction of a parking garage and the boat slips he said. The city conducted a citizen survey following the defeat; "Almost unanimously, the boat slips were the most popular portion of that referendum question," Hibbard said.
"We invited you here today to shoot any holes that you might be able to find in this whole presentation, because you're probably an easier crowd than we're going to have on Wednesday," Hibbard said.
The downtown slip proposal will be submitted for voter approval in a refendum during the March 13 election. "The bottom line is we want to get this passed because it is a good thing for downtown Clearwater, all of Clearwater and our residents. It's not just going to help 129 boaters," Hibbard said.
Doug Matthews, Clearwater's Director of Public Communications, summarized the features of the project:
Matthews also outlined what the facility will not have, including dock boxes, fuel docks or permanent fencing along the waterfront. Although dock access will be provided for a ferry service and commercial pickup/dropoff, permanent commercial tenants are not wanted at the downtown docks. "We didn't want everything that comes along with a lot of commercial activity, which includes things like a place to be able to sell admission or tickets, a place for people to cut and clean fish," Matthews said.
Dave Gildersleeve, a VP for the city's planning consultant Wade Trim, described the design of the complex. It will consist of two docking facilities, separated by the Memorial Causeway bridge. A 32-foot by 202-foot pedestrian promenade would be built over the old bridge pilings, and connect to the slips to the north of the bridge. The entire facility would consist of 14 thirty foot slips, 32 forty foot slips, 21 forty-five foot slips, 48 fifty foot slips and 14 fifty-five foot slips. Gildersleeve said that the facility has been designed to withstand a Category II hurricane.
Margie Simmons, Clearwater's Finance Director, described a bright financial future for the facility. She forecast a net profit from operations of $4.8-million over 40 years. In addition, the docks are expected to produce $4.8 million of General Fund revenue over those 40 years in the form of Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT), a 5.5-percent tax imposed on all of the city's enterprise operations to defray city operating expenses that would otherwise be paid by property taxes.
The cost of construction, estimated at $11-million, includes a 15-percent contingency according to Simmons. The Downtown Development Board and Community Redevelopment Agency have each committed capital contributions of $500-thousand, lowering the bonding amount.
Simmons claimed to have used conservative figures for the cash-flow projections. A bond interest rate of current plus 1-percent was used. An initial rental rate of $15.50/foot/month was assumed, in line with recommendations by the city's project financial and marketing consultant, Applied Technology Management (ATM). Occupancy of the permanent slips was assumed at 90-percent for the first year of operation, and 100-percent thereafter. Transient rates will start at $2/foot/day, but Simmons discounted that figure by 30-percent and assumed an occupancy rate of about 50-percent.
But as a stand-alone facility, the downtown slips are only marginally profitable. More than $3-million of the projected $4.8-million profit over 40 years comes not from slip rental, but from additional fuel and ice sales that are expected at the city's nearby Municipal Marina. Simmons assumed 50 gallons per permanent slip per month and 50 gallons per transient stay of fuel sales, with a markup of 32 cents per gallon.
The "stakeholders" invited to the meeting were supportive of the plan. Rather than accept Hibbard's invitation to "shoot holes" in the presentation, they offered several suggestions for improvement, including sprucing-up the illustrations, using graphics instead of numbers to communicate the financial projections, and highlighting how the profits will be used to benefit Clearwater's taxpayers.
The first public meeting on the downtown boat slip proposal was held last night, too late for inclusion in this story.
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