Living in Gulfport, chances are you love beaches, art, music and a friendly, small-town sensibility. However, the heart of the city is more than just on land; it’s on the water as well.
A real jewel in Gulfport is the Municipal Marina, on Boca Ciega Bay.
According to officials, improving the marina also makes good money sense. It has been a consistent moneymaker for the city. Harbor Master Denis Frain estimated the marina paid Gulfport nearly $600,000 over operating costs in 2011.
The marina needs a few repairs; and if new plans are approved, capacity should be expanded by at least another 50 boats. To steal a line from Jaws—it is not that Gulfport needs a bigger boat, they need a bigger marina.
“The marina has had a long history for paying for what it builds,” Frain said, “the rest is profit. We have a good history for return on investment.”
This consistent stream of revenue is the reason Ward 2 Council Member Barbara Banno pushes the city council to help the marina grow from current capacity. As it stands, the marina has about 250 slips.
“We want to be competitive with other marinas offering additional amenities,” Banno said. “We requested plans to build a bigger marina store and engineering designs. Once we understand the costs; we really hope to put it on our five-year plan.”
“What I would like to see is about 10 to 15 boat lifts, Banno added.” Some of the new marinas in the area already have lifts.”
Frain also looks to a bright future for boaters wanting a fun place to stopover, or to stay for an extended visit.
“There are a couple things on the radar,” Frain said. “The big thing now, since the economy is kind of tight, is keeping your boat on a trailer in a storage facility.”
Gulfport recently renegotiated the lease at the Boca Ciega Yacht Club, affecting about 85 boat slips. The city owns the property and controls the slips, giving “right of first refusal” to Boca Ciega. Earlier this year, the marina began monthly kayak storage, as well as a new launch ramp.
For $15 a month, kayak owners get storage and all the amenities, including showers and a keyed entry. Frain said he would like additional storage for 12 more and said the improvement would pay for itself within the first year.
Some renovations have been completed, such as the addition of two gates and a fence dividing public and private sections. Frain hopes the City Council approves additional improvements; all with the goal of accommodating more boats, with more revenue.
The next priorities for the marina, according to Frain, should be boat lifts, dry storage renovation and a bigger ship store, where visitors can pick up supplies like ice, beer, bait, tackle and other sundries.
“In expanding the ship store, what council looked into was the possibility to have liveaboards,” Frain said. Liveaboards are people who use boats as a residence, and they stay in a marina for several weeks at a time.
“We are 75 percent occupancy,” Frain said. “Liveaboards could fill the remaining 25 percent.”
“Right now we don’t have the facilities to sustain liveaboards,” said Frain, “so what we have to do is expands the ship store, with a larger restroom, more showers and laundry facilities.”
Another amenity would be to add lifts to a few of the empty slips, making Gulfport Municipal Marina viable, when compared with surrounding marinas catering to liveaboards and transient boaters. Gulfport marina has always been well-liked, not only with boating clubs from Dunedin, Punta Gorda and St. Petersburg, but boaters from around the country.
“Many people take a boat down here,” Frain said, “and they love our downtown area.”
“Boat lifts are very popular right now,” Frain added. “Isla Del Sol marina (off the Pinellas Bayway) installed 50 to 60 lifts and they are currently all full. What this does is lift the boat out of the water. That cuts down on maintenance you have to do and saves a tremendous amount of maintenance on your vessel.”
The marina operates through an enterprise fund, paying the city from revenue. This system makes the Municipal Marina one of the chief money making operations for Gulfport. The marina pays Gulfport in lieu of taxes.
“It’s called a Pilot Program,” Frain said. “With all the municipalities, especially Gulfport, in tight financial situation, they are looking for as much money as they can, to prop up the general fund.”
Lori Rosso, President of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce, said any traffic increase will be a boom to the business community, considering the marina’s proximity to downtown.
More slips, liveaboards and kayak storage makes the marina “a good vantage point, where we could become a stopover,” Rosso said.
“We don’t have chain stores and we don’t have any parking meters,” she added. “Gulfport is one of the few places on the waterfront where you are going to find that.”
Banno, Harbormaster Frain and Rosso all agree an improved marina, with the best amenities, can continue to be a strong revenue center for Gulfport.
The Gulfport Municipal Marina is located at 4630 29th Ave. S, on Boca Ciega Bay. For more information, call (727) 893-1071 or email Harbor Master Frain at email@example.com .