Vero to invest $7 million in boat storage building at marina


As locals scramble to find a place to stow away all the boats they bought during the pandemic watercraft-buying frenzy, the City of Vero Beach thinks it can capitalize on a long-term market trend by investing big in dry boat storage.

During the city’s first round of budget talks, the city council gave staff unequivocal direction to plan on the largest of three options for a boat barn at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina on the barrier island.

The proposals ranged from $3 million to $7.1 million total cost. The marina intends to finance construction of the new boat storage building using a loan from the city along with a $3.2 million contribution from the general fund. The city has a grant of $463,000 that can be applied to the cost and staff is looking at other grant opportunities to reduce the city’s share.

City Manager Monte Falls said the footprint of the largest option would go almost all the way to what’s known as the Waddell Building, which is owned by the city. Marina Director Sean Collins said the largest boat barn’s capacity would be 140 boats of up to 30 feet in length. The city’s aim is to take reservations for dry storage spots before the barn is built, as the demand is so high right now.

“I’d like to have that initial offering, if you sign up before we even break ground, we’ll lock you in at a flat rate for a year, just so we can get that in right away,” Collins said.

The existing 53-year-old dry storage building is 75 feet long with 52 racks that hold a maximum of 22-foot boats, and only 30 percent of the boats can be that maximum length.

The building is 100 percent rented with 17 people on the waiting list. The new, much larger boat barn would bring in an additional $343,000 in annual revenue for the marina, if rates stay the same.

People who store their boats just need to give 10 minutes’ lead time when they are on the way to the marina to have the boat retrieved. “That’s why people pay for that boutique experience,” Collins said, adding that the staff hoses down the boats before clients arrive, and then flushes them again before they are returned to storage.

Finance Director Cindy Lawson said based on the council consensus, the $7.1 million boat barn is the design that will be incorporated into the final city budget presented for public hearing in September.

The boat barn is part of a massive marina overhaul to turn it into what the council calls “a world-class facility.”

Other costs in the five-year plan, which would be partially funded by grant dollars, are $828,000 for design and permitting, $3.3 million for the north and south docks, $2.1 million to remodel the fuel dock, center dock and marina office, $1.8 million for dredging, $745,000 for shoring up the bulkhead and $2.5 million for the lagoon docks. When proposed, the total cost of implementing the master plan was estimated to be $18 million to $21 million.

Former Mayor Laura Moss had said that she thought embarking upon such a hugely expensive capital project in the pandemic economy was bad timing, but since November’s election the current council’s attitude has been full steam ahead on the first phases of the project. Vice Mayor Rey Neville and Councilman Dick Winger are avid, lifelong boaters and the balance of the council have experience with boats or support the local boating community.

“This is such an asset to the city,” said Councilman Bob McCabe.

Neville supports the project but wants to make sure the building is aesthetically pleasing because it’s close to a residential neighborhood.

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