Megayacht Marinas Not Hit by Economic Rough Spots

By Arlene Satchell
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 14, 2008

South Florida megayacht marina expansion and redevelopment projects are staying on course despite the tough economic times.

While the entry-level boat sector has been hit hard by the ailing economy, all signs are pointing to continued growth in the high-end category.

Boatyards and marinas are injecting millions to renovate and expand to better accommodate luxury boats 80 feet or more in length.

In 2006, 1,500 megayachts visited South Florida, up from 800 in 1997, according to a 2007 report commissioned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and industry partners. And more of these luxury vessels are expected during the next winter boating season.

Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale is expecting to open its new megayacht dockage and repair facility within 60 days, general manager Mark Pratt said.

The centerpiece of an 18-acre, $40 million expansion, the area has covered work space for yachts up to 185 feet and heavier lifts to pull them ashore for maintenance and repairs.

“Boatyards are our core business and are important to the future of the industry,” said Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

In 2006, megayacht repair and maintenance work in the area had an estimated economic impact of $219.8 million. The big boat visits also generated $152.6 million in brokerage and charter commissions.

West Palm Beach’s Rybovich Marina is undergoing a $15 million upgrade that’ll add 7,000 linear feet of new floating and fixed docks for yachts up to 300 feet long.

A recreational area with fitness center, pool, basketball court and lounge will give customers a resort feel, Rybovich Vice President George Whitehouse said.

Last year, Rybovich completed the first part of the renovation, which included a new 40,000-square-foot repair center and service slips for yachts up to 275 feet.

The upgrades at this service marina will help put Palm Beach County on the map for megayachts, Whitehouse said.

Work will begin this summer on the new Pier 17 Marina & Yacht Club in Fort Lauderdale, following approval of the site plan in May, project manager Brad Tate said.

Pier 17 is being built on the grounds of the old Summerfield Boat Works, which closed two years ago.

The private marina will feature 22 covered and four uncovered wet slips for yachts 80 feet to 155 feet long, and a clubhouse, captain and crew lounge, swimming pool and fitness center.

Boat slips featuring garages and storage areas are priced at $15,000 and $24,000 per linear foot, depending on yacht size.

Ten slips already have been sold, but sales have slowed in the past eight months as the economy worsened, director of sales Steve Fill said.

In North Palm Beach, Old Port Cove Marina’s South Basin is getting a $15 million facelift that includes hardwood floating docks and larger slips to better accommodate yachts 80 feet to 250 feet in length.

“There just hasn’t been a place for them [megayachts] this far north,” marina spokeswoman Sue Morgan said.

As megayacht construction grows, South Florida marinas are shoring up their competitive edge.

In 2007, 770 yachts from 75 feet to more than 136 feet were built worldwide, compared with 223 in 1997, the marine association’s report said.

Aqua Marine Partners of Hollywood is awaiting city approval of the Vertical Yacht Club Marina Mile megayacht complex in Fort Lauderdale. Work is expected to begin there in January.

The dry storage marina will house 46 boats up to 85 feet long in individual climate-controlled suites.

Marinas with indoor boat slips are becoming commonplace as new waterfront dock space is increasingly harder to find.

“We’re excited to get it moving as we’ve already had a few pre-opening leases signed,” spokesman John Ross said.

One marina project, however, has hit a snag.

Naples-based BoatClubsAmerica had planned to transform Jackson Marine into the new Fort Lauderdale BoatClub offering megayacht and small boat slips for sale and clubhouse amenities, including deli, gym, resort-style pool and tiki bar.

Construction is on hold, but the marine continues operating with seven tenants.

Permits for the $50 million renovation were finalized in December just as “the economy jumped into a paralyzing new chapter,” spokeswoman Kelly Ruff said.