Snowbirds migrate to marina
Low fuel prices and increased space for boaters have buoyed the Vero Beach City Marina amid the growing economic downturn.
The barrier island facility has been busier this season than last, according to Tim Grabenbauer, marina director and harbormaster. Despite a sinking economy, the city-owned marina continues to benefit from cheap fuel, inclement weather in Northern states, positive word-of-mouth and a recent expansion that increased the number of available wet slips.
A feature highlighting the Vero Beach City Marina in the current issue of a national boating magazine, Soundings, probably helped too.
The marina – which includes 108 wet slips and 57 mooring buoys – was hosting 139 visiting boats on Monday at press time. Grabenbauer said Christmas Eve likely set a marina record with 168 visiting boats.
Many of the visiting boaters are “cruisers,” or boaters who live on their boats full time, Grabenbauer said. When winter weather turns severe in other parts of the country, these boaters head for warmer climates. “They’re more likely to come south anyway because it’s cold up north,” he said.
Grabenbauer said boaters were adjusting to the current economic downturn by taking fewer and shorter trips. “This is the last thing they want to cut” entirely, he said. Grabenbauer said he was surprised last year as well, when the marina remained busy even as gas prices rocketed toward $4 per gallon.
Amenities such as the GoLine public transit bus system, which has a stop at the marina, helped land the marina in Soundings, which has a circulation of 50,000. The magazine highlighted Vero Beach and the marina in its January 2009 issue, enticing readers with amenities such as the nearby Vero Beach Museum of Art and the natural beauty of the Indian River Lagoon.
Though the marina advertises in boating guides and magazines, word-ofmouth has helped to steer more boaters to Vero Beach than other sources, Grabenbauer said. He said the marina is a perk for boaters, but that Vero Beach is the real draw. “This is such a great town,” he said.
A recent expansion that increased the marina’s capacity has also proven to be a boon. In June 2007, the city council purchased the former Indian River Marina, which added 20 wet slips and 75 dry storage units, as well as office space.
“We had always been short of slip spaces in Vero,” Grabenbauer said, noting that the existing city marina had needed more capacity for several years. But the expansion decision was not entirely smooth sailing.
The city first considered buying the Indian River Marina property from Lost Tree Corp. in February 2007. According to a city appraisal, the Indian River Marina property, a 1.19-acre parcel, was worth $3.2 million at the time. After Lost Tree informed the city that it had received four other offers for the property, council members agreed to purchase the property. But Lost Tree instead accepted an offer from another bidder.
The deal eventually collapsed, and Lost Tree once again approached the city. In June 2007, council members voted to purchase the property for $4.6 million. When the city purchased Indian River Marina, council members said leasing out boat storage and slips at the marina could raise money and offset costs. Critics chastised the city over the price paid for the marina.
Last October, the Florida Inland Navigation District, the state entity that oversees the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, awarded a $378,000 grant to the city to help offset the cost of the purchase. And the city council recently voted to allow an insurance company to rent office space at the marina. Grabenbauer characterized the Indian River Marina purchase as a “once-in-alifetime opportunity” and a chance to keep a section of desirable waterfront open to public recreation. Otherwise, he said, a developer or private entity could have purchased the property.
“Twenty years down the road or maybe much sooner, people will say that was a good move,” he said.