South Fla. fights to keep water access

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Having survived 2005’s hurricanes, South Florida’s marine businesses still face a host of economic challenges in the years ahead: soaring insurance rates, declining waterfront access, loss of boatyards and marinas to high-rise condominiums, tougher permitting requirements, and restrictions on where and how many slips can be built.

Having survived 2005’s hurricanes, South Florida’s marine businesses still face a host of economic challenges in the years ahead: soaring insurance rates, declining waterfront access, loss of boatyards and marinas to high-rise condominiums, tougher permitting requirements, and restrictions on where and how many slips can be built.

Changing economic conditions are a fact of life, said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, at the Marine Industry

Association of South Florida’s annual marine summit Dec. 8. Through all these changes, “We need to protect this industry so we can have a strong economy,” he said.

The boating industry has surpassed tourism as Broward County’s biggest business, generating a $10.7 billion impact on the local economy. The industry also has created 134,000 jobs — not just in boating but also in other sectors that depend on money generated by boating, according to MIASF president Kristina Hebert.

Attendees had several suggestions on how to address the issue, including:

• Changing Florida’s new Waterway and Waterfront Improvement Act to give not only tax deferrals but tax reductions for marine facility owners in exchange for them surrendering development rights to their property. The law is supposed to encourage them to keep waterfront in marine uses.

• Do what Palm Beach County has done and adopt a bond issue (Palm Beach voters approved$50 million) so Broward County can enter into public-private partnerships in developing new marine facilities. Six boatyards have been converted to residential developments over the past five years, leaving just 13 yards in Broward County.

Bob Wickman, owner of Fort Lauderdale’s New River Dry Dock, Marina and Shipyard, says every yard in Broward County has been approached by developers who want to build high-rises on the property and turn marinas into dockominiums — wet or dry slips for sale.

“We want to stay in the business,” Wickman said. “I don’t want my marinas to become condos, but we need help.”

• Advocate for government policies to build affordable housing for workers. Len Renne, owner of Seven Seas Yacht Sales Inc., said three of his young mechanics drive more than an hour to work because they can’t find affordable housing for their families around Fort Lauderdale.

• Get more cooperation from local government to help businesses grow and develop. Wickman said the Fort Lauderdale fire marshal shut down one of his yards and told him to move out all the boats after Hurricane Wilma because a bridge to the property was judged too oldto support the weight of an 18,000-pound fire engine, which would have to cross the bridge to respond to a fire at the marina. He said this has caused him to lose a lot of post-hurricane repair business and made selling the property to a developer a whole lot more attractive.

• Christopher “Kit” Denison, president of Marine Realty Inc., a marina brokerage business, proposed that marine businesses band together to buy marinas and boatyards to keep them in marine use and out of the hands of developers who just want to build condominiums. “There are opportunities to sell our waterfront racks and slips to the marine industry itself and have them own a piece of the marinas,” he said.

• Susan Engle, president of EnviroCare Solutions International Inc., said the industry would be proposing to Broward County an increase in the number of slips that can be built in different parts of the county under the marina siting component of the county’s Manatee Protection Plan.

• Bernard Wren, who led a discussion of planning challenges, proposed among other things lobbying for a boatyard or marina in Port Everglades and analyzing the benefit of replacing low bridges with higher ones or tunnels where they prevent navigation of smaller waterways linking neighborhoods to the Intracoastal Waterway.

“We are at a critical point in the survivability of existing facilities,” said Jim Murley, a professor in Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions.