For nearly four months, residents of the Fort Myers Yacht Basin expressed concerns over the redevelopment of the marina. Residents nearly exhausted every form of protest against Suntex Marina, the developer in current negotiations with the city.
From red signs and shirts that read “STOP SUNTEX” to waiting five hours to speak by the dozens at multiple city council meetings, residents of the yacht basin heard their questions answered by Suntex leadership Monday night.
About four dozen residents attended a public forum hosted by Wilbur Smith Law Firm, representing Suntex, and Suntex leadership at the Collaboratory. The purpose of the event was for the community to hear from the developer about what it plans to do with the yacht basin.
The issue of where live-a-boards would go during and after construction was a looming question the residents had, as many fear not having a place to live and feel uncertainty around lease renewal and future rates.
“Many of the concerned citizens here are concerned mostly because of where they’re going to be if construction starts, what’s going to happen and how much rates are going to go up,” said Ruth Diaz, a six-year resident at the yacht basin and four-year employee at the marina. “Are you guys going to work with all of us to try to make this work?”
David Filler, partner and head of investments for Florida and the Southeast at Suntex, said the company has no prohibitions against live-a-boards. Sam Chavers, senior vice president of operations for Suntex, echoed Filler’s response.
“Live-a-boards are a common item in our industry,” said Chavers, who has taken over 25 separate marinas with Suntex in the last six years. “We work with them. Not one time have we come in and asked someone to leave for some arbitrary reason.”
Leadership said the only way someone gets kicked out is for not being compliant with rules, regulations and lease terms. As for residents not being able to renew their leases, some of which are up next month, it was said to be common practice.
“It is extremely common for anybody that owns real estate, that is either selling it or going to put up on a long-term lease like in this case, to not encumber the property during any type of negotiating period so that the new lessee can come in and do that directly with the tenants,” Attorney Sawyer Smith said. “I represent them here. There’s never once ever been a discussion about eviction or about how we transition anybody out.”
Slip fees and rates have not yet been determined but are expected to be at the local market rate between $16 to $22 per foot, ensuring there will be an increase from the current $12 per foot residents pay now.
“Every marina is different, and each market is different,” Filler said. “We can never charge more than market rate and market rate is not only a function of the general market, but the quality of the product that you’re offering.”
Suntex has a marina in Fort Myers Beach, Snook Bight Marina, charging $20 per foot.
Residents of the yacht basin felt left out of the request for proposal process, many admitting to having some hostility toward council members whom they felt did not do their due diligence surrounding the yacht basin.
“This is a fair meeting tonight, you’re getting a little heat because nobody’s had the chance to vent,” said Randy Blakesley, a one-year resident of the yacht basin and five-year boat owner on the marina. “It’s not a dig at any one company. We didn’t feel the city did their due diligence and did a good assessment of slip availability, utilization or what was going on, and all of the sudden, this thing is way down the road and residents don’t even know what’s happened.”
Smith consistently reminded attendees of the public forum that the redevelopment of the marina came from the city when they released a request for proposal.
“The city has gone through its financial problems,” Smith said. “Right now, if you go through the books, we don’t have it insured. We can’t afford this. So, the city decided to issue an RFP and these guys have answered it based on the council’s request.”
Suntex has the capital to move the project forward without additional funding and relieving the city of its $2.3 million debt on the marina.
“This is a great opportunity to really improve this area and activate the waterfront and make it a destination for everybody,” Filler said. “That ability to almost create something that’s raw and mold it into something that we hope can be a really exciting trophy piece for the portfolio and for the city of Fort Myers.”
Negotiations for the project are ongoing. If it moves forward, it’s expected to take between three to four years to complete, beginning with permitting and ending with construction.