By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
The county operates 1311 berths, both wet and dry. They are considerably cheaper than private dock spaces and some county marinas have waiting lists. The majority of marina tenants live in Miami-Dade, but some Broward residents (Oliphant is one) take advantage of the lower rates in public facilities to the south.
"The county does not have to pay property taxes," explains Bob Cristoph, a private operator who leases the 400-slip Miami Beach Marina. "That gives them an advantage. I'd say they are at least a third cheaper than anyone else, in part because of the tax question."
Cristoph estimates that the average private marina has to charge at least 40 cents per foot per day for each vessel. (If a boat is 25 feet long, its owner pays ten dollars per day [40 cents X 25 feet = $10] or about $300 per month.)
But county marinas charge from 23 to 28 cents per foot per day, which computes to between $175 and $210 per month for a 25-foot vessel. The amenities are bare bones, however; in some cases the marinas do not even include showers.
Westrec's two Broward marinas are much more expensive. Harbour Towne, which includes 145 wet slips and 365 dry-storage spaces, charges 90 cents per foot during the season (October through April) and 50 cents per foot the rest of the year. Luxurious Hall of Fame, with 42 slips, charges $1.40 during the season and $1.30 the rest of the year. For that money Westrec offers onsite repair shops, swimming pools, access to onboard telephones and cable television, and free newspapers.
Gary Groenewald, Westrec's southeast representative, insists that it is not valid to compare the Broward operations with the company's potential management of Miami-Dade marinas. But when asked how Westrec would make money on the Miami-Dade facilities without raising docking rates, Groenewald demurs. "We haven't had time yet to study the RFP," he says. When told of the present rates, he pauses: "Twenty-eight cents. That's darn low," he exclaims.
During the county commission meeting December 1, Commissioner Jimmy Morales raised the issue of Westrec's history in South Florida. "I have been contacted by many boat owners and operators who have expressed concern about that company [Westrec] -- failures at other ports, bankruptcies," he says.
In 1996 Westrec forfeited control of Thunderboat and Banyan Bay marinas, both in Dania Beach, rather than make loan payments on those properties. "The company just paid too much for them," Groenewald admits. Westrec relinquished control of Tavernier Creek Marina in March 1997, when a balloon mortgage payment came due and company officials decided revenues did not justify the investment. On November 1 Westrec gave up control of Faro Blanco Marina in Marathon. Hurricane Andrew had sharply reduced the property's earning power, Groenewald explains.
According to an article published in one industry magazine, Marina Operator International, and circulated by privatization opponents, at least three Westrec International marinas in Europe also failed in recent years, one each in France, Holland, and Britain. The 1996 report included charges by John O'Hanlon, reportedly a former Westrec International employee. O'Hanlon claimed he lost $200,000 after Westrec International backed out on financial commitments in Europe. "Westrec is purporting to be something that it isn't," O'Hanlon charged, according to the magazine. "Nobody questions it because it's a big company, but it really has little money and few assets, only a series of short-term marina contracts."
Anderson terms O'Hanlon's charges irrelevant to his company. He insists the European operation was a franchise, that his firm did not manage any marinas in Europe, and that it had no legal or financial commitments there. "It was a totally separate operation," he says.
As for the South Florida failures, Anderson contends those marinas were all purchased before the company changed hands in 1991, and that Westrec's former owners lacked financial expertise.
Darlene Oliphant remains wary. "These are the people who want to take over our county marinas, which are working just fine right now," she says.
Privatization of the publicly owned marinas would betray the idea of parks, says 41-year-old boat owner Anthony Chiocca. "People in this county have been voting for years to buy park lands for public use," explains Chiocca, a contractor who says he lives aboard his 48-foot powerboat, Survivor, at Crandon Park Marina. "Now those same taxpayers are going to be asked to pay for profits that will be taken by some private company. It isn't fair."
"It's an outrage," insists Martin Ury, age 66, whose 40-foot motorized yacht, Moonraker 2, is docked near Chiocca's. "I think the county could end up giving away more than it's taking in. How does that benefit taxpayers here?"
Twenty-six-year-old Danielle Egizi works as an assistant dockmaster at Crandon. "They will have to raise rates in order to make profits," she insists, "and all that will happen then is that the average person will no longer be able to use the county marinas. And that's who they were meant for."
All county marinas exist in public parks. Miami-Dade County bought the tracts or received them as donations beginning in 1930. In that year the Matheson family handed over part of the land that now makes up Matheson Hammock. The county also initiated purchase of submerged lands off the 79th Street Causeway, where Pelican Harbor Marina is now located. In 1935 the started to buy the land for Haulover Park. In 1940 the Matheson family again donated land, this time for Crandon Park. Marinas were constructed on all those sites using public funds.