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St. Petersburg's marina needs work. Who will pay for it?

ST. PETERSBURG - There are a lot of open questions as city leaders weigh their options to renovate the crumbling municipal marina.

But one thing is certain: rent is going up.

The marina is in such a state of disrepair and unprepared for sea-level rise, Mayor Rick Kriseman said, it could take $50 million to upgrade.

"What we do know is, no matter what we do, we're going to end up raising rates," the mayor said. "There's no way we can maintain them at the current level and do the improvements."

For the city to make such a sizeable investment, it would have to take on debt, Kriseman said, in the form of municipal bonds. Or it could contract with a private company, an option it hadn't considered until March.

That's when the city received an unsolicited proposal from Safe Harbor Marinas, the same company that leases and operates the Harborage Marina in Bayboro Harbor. In basic terms, Safe Harbor suggested it take on the cost of renovating the marina in exchange for the right to lease and operate it.

The trisected municipal marina occupies three basins: The north yacht basin lies north of the pier and has traditionally been used as a mooring field, though it's been inactive with the new St. Pete Pier under construction. The central basin lies between the pier and Demens Landing, and the south basin sits below Demens Landing.

Due to procurement rules, the city can't consider an unsolicited proposal without giving other groups the opportunity to submit offers. Notice went out in early April, and the city received three additional proposals before the window expired June 7, all of which offer similar arrangements with slightly different details - though two specifically cater to large yachts, and one of those tries to trade on the stardom of part-time Clearwater celebrity John Travolta. Under all four proposals, rent would go up. And none of the four come close to meeting the $50 million budget estimated by the mayor.

The proposal from Safe Harbor Marinas calls for the company to lease the marina from the city for five years, during which time they try to hammer out a long-term lease of 30 years or more. The rent due to the city would amount to 15 percent of the revenue generated from the marina, excluding fuel sales.

The first two years of the five-year agreement, the company wouldn't be able to raise rates higher than 3 percent from the year before. In the third, fourth and fifth years, the company could raise rates up to 12 percent.

The budget in the proposal is $30 million. For that, Safe Harbor Marinas wrote it would replace nearly all the existing docks with floating ones, using concrete and aluminum. The plan would be to segregate users into groups, like transient renters, seasonal, commercial and "mega yachts."

Another proposal comes from Safe Harbor Development, a separate company that says it builds marinas, water parks, hotels, homes and restaurants (the two Safe Harbors are involved in federal litigation over the name similarity).

That proposal also calls for a minimum investment of $30 million by the company. Safe Harbor Development proposed a 10-year lease with extension options. The proposal calls for rents to increase up to 10 percent the first five years, then five percent the last five years.

Safe Harbor Development would pay the city an annual rent of $250,000, plus 25 percent of revenue.

The third proposal was submitted by Island Global Yachting, which recently bought and renovated the Maximo Marina near Pinellas Point. Island Global's pitch involves more thoroughly integrating the marina into the fabric of St. Petersburg's economy, creating itineraries for marina guests, allowing businesses to market to them and partnering with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and Sailing Center.

Island Global's proposed lease agreement is similar to Safe Harbor Marinas: a five-year lease with a possible 30 year or more extension, whereby rates can rise up to three percent the first two years and 12 percent in the third, fourth and fifth years.

Its plan also budgets for a $30 million investment, paying the city 15 percent revenue. The plan also calls for an annual $100,000 contribution toward "community waterfront and boating activities" at the marina during the lease term.

The Travolta proposal was submitted by St. Petersburg Downtown Marina LLC, which is composed of three St. Petersburg Yacht Club members.

"Our downtown market is home to many celebrities including John Travolta but also thousands of international tourists," reads the second sentence of Downtown Marina's pitch.

Among the ideas mentioned in the pitch are buying an insurance policy for the marina and charging for parking.

It, too, budgets for a $30 million renovation, and the lease, the terms of which are not mentioned, calls for paying the city 20 percent of revenue.

The proposal emphasizes targeting large yachts and laments the lack of slips to "allow some our fellow yacht club members to move their boats" to the marina.

"How many celebrities would like to live in St. Petersburg but choose Miami because of the lack of boat parking?" the proposal asks. "We have plans to change the marina slightly and add a few of these choice slips, allowing the highest caliber of people to be able to come to our area."

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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