BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - Beaufort city leaders are creating a plan to make the Downtown Beaufort Marina a destination for boaters, not just a stop on another trip.
"We have agreed that we want this to be a top quality, regional destination because our marina offers the customers one thing most others don't," said Bill Prokop, City Manager for the City of Beaufort. "We're right in downtown, so somebody who comes here by water can easily access a restaurant, do some shopping."
The current marina management contract expires on June 30, 2019, allowing the city to select a new group to take over operations for the first time in 30 years.
The city is using the opportunity to learn more about the marina and to set long-term goals for improvements.
"Our marina and our park [are] the gem of the city, as well as our historic district," Prokop said. "What this will do is to really upgrade that further."
Alan Dechovitz is a past chairman of the Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club and was on a previous Downtown Beaufort Marina redevelopment committee. He agrees new management brings the opportunity for upgrades.
"I see it being another part of the gem that downtown is," he said. "It's a great opportunity for the city of Beaufort to do something great for the residents and for the people who come here."
The city has outlined a multi-step process to figure out the marina's immediate needs and their long-term goals.
The city is starting its work with an engineering study. It will survey underwater infrastructure to see if there are any improvements needed.
Then, it will hire a short-term management company to run marina operations for about 18 months to three years. The city hasn't published its request for proposals yet, but Prokop said several South Carolina and national companies have already expressed interest.
"From a private party's point of view, it looks like a profitable venture, but also the market is here," he said. "Our location, just our geographic location, is ideal on the Intercoastal Waterway, and we have deep water."
Prokop said because the marina is operated by a private company, the city doesn't have a lot of background knowledge on what is needed, but city staff has started collecting information about current marina operations.
Prokop said city leaders hope to learn from the short-term contract, make long-term plans based on their findings and hire a company to complete them.
"This is all pieces that really fit together to keep downtown Beaufort a draw for people who come to visit our area," Prokop said.
Dechovitz says those improvements should and will benefit locals as well.
"Oh there's no question that the marina, properly marketed with the right kind of infrastructure, can create quite a few more jobs that pay well, and it can generate more revenue," Dechovitz said. "It's a very good financial asset for the city. It generates a good income, but it hasn't been a place where a lot of locals go and can enjoy the water. So we need to bring that in, and we also can use the marina to link with businesses because the expectations of boaters have changed."
Dechovitz said right now, the marina generates between $175,000-$200,000 annually for the city, and that's comparable to the business tax license revenue generated by all the businesses downtown.
"That whole downtown generates a little bit more than $200,000 in business tax revenue for the city, so the marina in itself is a very substantial business," he said. "The city needs that because there's a lot of income in this area but most of it isn't within the boundaries of the city limits."
He said boaters now want more concierge-style services, opening the door for local businesses to be suppliers.
Dechovitz's list of essential upgrades would include new docks to replace the current, 25-year-old ones, an updated marine store and improved amenities, like restrooms and showers. His wish list includes expanding the marina to add non-motorized watersports, like kayaking a paddleboarding.
"Things that people would like to do, so that you don't have to buy a $50,000 motorboat to be able to enjoy the waters here," he said.
Prokop said the city wants to publish a request for proposals by the end of July and a company selected by the fall. The city wants the new company in place by January 2019, giving that company six months to work with the current company before its contract expires.