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Luxury club to keep members high & dry

No question, Aventura’s Thunderboat Row has been domesticated — turned into a condo canyon — but it still will have at least one wild hair.

No question, Aventura’s Thunderboat Row has been domesticated — turned into a condo canyon — but it still will have at least one wild hair.

HiLift Marina, one of the two remaining go-fast marinas and boatbuilding shops on N.E. 187th and 188th streets, is being redeveloped as a dry stack yacht club that will be luxurious, high-

tech, loaded with amenities — and pricey. But it is still a very good deal, says Andrew Sturner, CEO of Aqua Marine Partners, a marina development company that aims to make Vertical Yacht Club Thunder Alley the flagship of a worldwide network of luxury dry-stack clubs.

Working waterfront is being converted to high-rises at an alarming rate. Coastal property is expensive — too expensive to support traditional marinas, Sturner says. “The economics really do drive this,” he says, as do the growing number of big center consoles, go-fasts and express cruisers and the rising expectations of their owners.

“People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on boats and tens of thousands on maintenance, service and provisioning,” he says. “They want to come to a facility where the staff takes care of them.”

Sturner says marinas can’t just be parking lots for boats anymore.

This one will be a club — a membership club. It will cost $20 million to build, and offer concierge and valet service, a lounge, business center, spa and gourmet café. At the owner’s request, the concierge will provision boats with food, drink and fuel at cost — no retail markup.

The membership concept is an alternative to buying a condominium slip. Cost of a lifetime club membership is $130,000, plus a $170 to $400 monthly fee, and memberships are transferable, Sturner says. When members sell their boat, they can transfer their membership to the new owner, if they wish. Or, an owner can pass a membership on to heirs. When members resign from the club, they are reimbursed the current sale price of a membership, minus a transfer fee. And once other Vertical Yacht Clubs open, members will have reciprocal privileges at those clubs, Sturner says.

It’s not exactly the kind of marina that Don Aronow knew when he ran his boat companies — Formula, Donzi, Magnum, Cigarette and Squadron XII — out of 188th Street. Aronow turned the street into the epicenter of high-performance racing and boating, but it was a lot grittier then. Aronow died on the street in 1987, shot down in front of his offices in a crime that convicted drug smuggler and powerboat racer Ben Kramer, another 188th Street denizen, pleaded no contest to.

Except for Formula and Magnum, the boat companies — ones like Aronow’s, Kramer’s Fort Apache Marine, Bobby Moore’s and TNT— are gone now, replaced by high-rise condominiums, a school and community center.

Boatbuilder Katrin Theodoli, owner of Magnum Marine, has said Magnum eventually will leave, as well, because of the high cost of operating on prime waterfront and Aventura’s policy of turning 187th and 188th streets into a pricey residential neighborhood. HiLift remains the country’s largest Formula dealership. Sturner says Vertical will continue to sell Formulas from its showroom.

City commissioners, preferring residential condominiums on the site, wouldn’t approve Sturner’s plans until he scaled down the dry stack from 190 to 122 and finally to 90 feet high, and convinced them that the club would look a lot nicer than the 32-year-old HiLift.

Responding to a commissioner’s published column that he didn’t want boats in the neighborhood, Sturner responded with a column of his own.

“I said, ‘Look, you want to have thousands of apartments here in Aventura, don’t you? I wonder why people come down here. Do you think it could be because of the water and boats that Florida offers?’ ”

Sturner is convinced Vertical Lift is the future of marinas in Florida and other big-boat markets like Spain, Dubai and parts of Canada because it can pack a lot of big boats into a relatively small space.

A laser-guided overhead crane — similar to one used to lift containers at commercial ports — can lift bigger boats than most forklifts, it can lift them higher (to the top of 200-foot racks) and it doesn’t need as much room to maneuver in the alley between the racks, Sturner says.

“Boats are getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “You need a solution for bigger boats.” The bridge crane is the solution, he says.

Sturner says Thunder Alley’s racks will store 211 boats up to 43 feet and 30,000 pounds. He plans to build another club, on Fort Lauderdale’s Miracle Mile, that will rack boats to 75 feet and 100,000 pounds.

Hauling and launching boats won’t depend on the skill of a forklift operator but on an automated laser guidance system accurate to a quarter inch as the bridge crane slips boats in and out of racks. That means no operator error and no dings on the hull, he says.

Designed to take 195-mph winds gusting to 300, the dry-stack and yacht club building will have a high-tech composite-fiber skin that triples its impact-resistance to flying debris, says Sturner.

Sturner, a former bankruptcy attorney, was a founding executive in two start-up companies. He was president of corporate and business development for online sports news site, Sports, and served as vice president of business development for MovieFone after he sold his interactive audio text company to Moviefone in 1994.

Sturner and engineer/developer Chris Rosenberg, president of the St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, company that adapted the overhead crane for use in dry stacks, are partners in developing the Vertical Lift Yacht Clubs. Sturner expects to break ground on the Aventura club by year’s end and open it in December 2008.

Sturner says he has six or seven more clubs under development.

“We are aggressively building out this network of Vertical Yacht Clubs,” he says.