Residents of the Fort Myers Yacht Basin have been voicing concerns regarding the redevelopment of the marina since late April.
Nearly two dozen residents attended a June 6 Fort Myers City Council meeting. Since plans for the yacht basin were a non-agenda item, residents waited four hours to speak to the council.
“We needed to be there to hold them accountable,” resident Mike Mullinger said. “We have to make sure that they hear from us at every meeting from now until the time that they make a decision.”
About a month ago, the council voted 4-3 in favor of proceeding with negotiations with the top-ranked developers. City officials made it clear proceeding with negotiations didn’t commit the city to any decision.
Suntex Marina was the top-ranked developer and was the first up to negotiate with the city. Its proposed investment into the yacht basin is about $45 million.
Head of Investments for Florida and the Southeast at Suntex, David Filler didn’t return multiple requests for comment.
Suntex engages in the business of owning, managing and investing in an extensive network of saltwater and freshwater marinas in the United States. It developed marinas along the east and west coasts of Florida, including Sarasota, Fort Myers Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
Negotiations with Suntex are in the early stages, according to City Manager Marty Lawing. He said they will come up with 10 to 15 key terms together, and if they can’t agree on the terms, then the next developer, Safe Harbor Development, will be able to negotiate with the city.
In the meantime, residents at the yacht basin have all rallied behind saying no to Suntex. “Suntex is just too big and powerful for Fort Myers,” said Bill Westberry, a five-year resident of the yacht basin. “It’s not a good fit.”
He said he is more open to Safe Harbor Development, the only developer that spoke to some of the residents. However, most residents said they would rather see the city retain control of the yacht basin.
“I believe in business,” Mullinger said. “I believe in the privatization of stuff where it makes sense, but the city should not give up control of its best asset.”
Mullinger conducted a financial analysis of the yacht basin and presented his findings to the council. He developed three scenarios to outline the financial benefit of the city retaining the marina. The scenarios ranged from including the current rates or matching market rates to adding slips and a qualified marina manager. All scenarios were anticipated to have a profitability of at least $1.9 million a year, while the marina profited $244,363 in 2020 as its being run now.
The rate at the yacht basin is about two times lower than the market rate, according to residents. Residents said if the city retains control of the marina, they are willing to pay more in line with the market rate to keep their community intact and fix up the existing marina.
Mullinger stressed it was a zero-risk plan for the city to retain ownership now, even if it decided to outsource later.
Mullinger is a yacht broker at Pier One Yacht Sales located in the marina. With Suntex’s plan, his office goes away. While he awaits the future of his business, others anticipate what will happen to their homes and families.
“My biggest fear is having nowhere to go,” resident Ashley Harris said. “Having a place to dock, electric and water; we still need those things in order to survive. I just feel like I’m going to come home from work one day and have nothing.”
Harris is a mother of three and has lived at the yacht basin for about four years. She said the best-case scenario would be for the city to retain ownership, fix up the existing marina and raise the rates to be more compatible with the market rate. “We’re a community,” she said. “We came together and said, ‘The more we push it, the more we show up, maybe it’ll make a difference.’”