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Neighbors fear marina makeover

The City Council votes today on a $5-million metamorphosis of the Davis Islands basin.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2001


The City Council votes today on a $5-million metamorphosis of the Davis Islands basin.

TAMPA -- In the controversy surrounding the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin, everyone agrees on this much: The place is desperately in need of a fix.

The wood is rotting, the planks sag, and some docks are so decrepit that signs warn against walking on them. The city acknowledges the marina hasn't seen substantial upkeep since the 1920s.

Now, in a $5-million renovation, the city plans to replace the tumbledown wood with floating concrete docks and boost the number of boat slips from 78 to 105, with another 18 day slips. There will be new showers, a snack and sundries shop, and two 10,000-gallon gas tanks underground to replace the current 2,000-gallon tank.

"The whole thing is unsightly," said Ron Rotella, the mayor's special consultant, who spearheaded the renovation plan. "We intend to make it more like a park, a recreational facility."

But some Davis Islands residents near the marina are bitterly opposed to the scope of the plan. They say it will leave the area noisy and congested, and that more traffic will endanger children who play baseball at a park next to the marina.

"The city really needs to give some thought to a city marina, and this is not the spot," said Lorraine Smith, 65, who lives near the marina. "It's going to be changed into a very, very busy commercial area."

Smith believes the city let the marina deteriorate to sell residents on the repair plans on the city's own terms. "They purposely let it go downhill," she said.

Barbara Vollmer, 69, who lives across the street from the marina, said congestion brought by the added boat slips will force out many of the sailboats that now dock there. In their place will be more maneuverable -- but louder -- powerboats.

"Right across the street, we'll hear every noise," Vollmer said.

The city contends it needs the extra boat slips to accommodate the demand for public docks, and cash flow at a marina that now brings little or no profit. After renovation, the city expects annual revenue of about $490,000 from the marina, enough to pay down the $5-million renovation loan.

Responding to public pressure, the city has already scaled back its plans for the marina, agreeing to renovate an existing dockmaster's building rather than build a new one, and to limit retail sales. In addition, the city will dedicate areas around the marina as a park, protecting it from development.

Still, critics question the city's logic in expanding boat slips at Marjorie Park while drawing up plans to turn over 30 to 40 boat slips along Bayshore Boulevard to a private developer. The developer would lease the Bayshore marina for at least $20,000 a year and enjoy whatever profits it brings.

The two companies that want to expand the Bayshore Marina are Crescent Resources, which is already building retail and residential space nearby, and the Scarfone Group, which is proposing "a world class marina" with more than 100 slips and a restaurant.

"They're displacing the boats at the Bayshore Marina and bringing them here," said Smith, the Davis Islands resident. "They're taking public land and using it for a special private interest."

Council member Rose Ferlita called the Bayshore idea "ludicrous."

"Why should we look at the Bayshore Marina as something we want to shuffle off to private enterprise when the city can make a profit on that and operate it themselves?" Ferlita said.

Ferlita, along with Mary Alvarez and Charlie Miranda, voted against the Marjorie Park plan when it came before the City Council for a first reading last month. The plan won preliminary approval by a 4-3 vote, with Bob Buckhorn, Linda Saul-Sena, Shawn Harrison and Gwen Miller voting yes.

The City Council will make its final vote today.

- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337

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