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Storm-free boat show draws a crowd

Dropping fuel costs, stabilized interest rates and a quiet hurricane season spur shoppers to Lauderdale

Dropping fuel costs, stabilized interest rates and a quiet hurricane season spur shoppers to Lauderdale

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show opened in October with sunny skies, long lines at the gates and renewed optimism about the future of boating.

“We got off to a great start with record crowds,” said Skip “Efrem” Zimbalist III, CEO of Show Management, which produces the show. “We have more boats than ever before and more booths at the show.”

Zimbalist, a magazine publisher, acquired Show Management in 2006 from founder Kaye Pearson.

Some 1,300 boats were on display and another 1,400 exhibitors set up in tents and booths at the show’s six locations. An estimated $1.6 billion worth of yachts, boats, engines, electronics and accessories were on display including the largest new megayachts on display — Feadship’s 197-foot Blue Moon and Lürssen’s 192-foot Linda Lou, both with price tags topping $90 million. The largest brokerage boat on display was Oceanfast’s 228-foot Floridian, valued at $70 million and owned by Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga.

Pent-up demand after last year’s disruption from Hurricane Wilma might have driven some of the crowds, exhibitors who were interviewed said. The 2005 show was postponed when the hurricane swept across South Florida. There was controversy when the show was rescheduled a week later, as South Floridians grappled with debris-filled streets and power outages.

Zimbalist says advance ticket sales were up 30 percent from the past two years for this year’s sold-out show, held Oct. 26 to 30. Those figures are not skewed by last year’s hurricane because tickets were sold before the storm churned across the Atlantic, according to Zimbalist.

While final attendance figures were not available at press time, organizers say preliminary figures show an increase of about 8 to 10 percent over the 2004 show (which was hurricane-free) for the first couple of days of the show and that attendance dipped with rain on the third day.

Zimbalist kicked off the show with a brief presentation about the industry during a well-attended breakfast for press and dignitaries. Zimbalist, whose company also recently purchased Yachts magazine, said he is optimistic about boat sales in the coming year. Fuel prices have fallen; interest rates appear to be stabilizing; the hurricane season this year was mild; and the Dow Jones is hitting new records.

He also extended the hand of friendship to dignitaries from the neighboring Bahamas, including Prime Minister Perry Christie, and to Florida developer Bobby Ginn, who is investing $4.9 billion in a resort community on the Grand Bahama Island. Ginn sur Mer, the development company, was title sponsor for the 2006 show.

Mayor Jim Naugle gave his nod to the industry by addressing the crowd at the press breakfast. The industry generates more than $18 billion to Florida’s economy. Of that, more than $13 billion is generated in South Florida. While tourism is on the rise in the city, with more than 10 million visitors last year (as opposed to three million in 1985), Naugle says the marine industry is even more vital to the local economy.

“The economic impact from the marine industry is greater than that of tourism,” he said.