Penny For Pinellas Could Fund City Marina

The slow economy is affecting the downtown boat slips to be built this year. Expensive hobbies like boating are among the first things people cut during tough times. Originally the city expected to allot the slips by lottery because of high demand, but only 2 people have signed up for slips.

Originally, the $128 million project was intended to be self-supporting, with monthly slip rents of approximately $15.50 per foot of boat length covering the operating costs and debt service. But boaters in today’s economy are not willing to pay such rents. City officials found that out when they recently raised the slip rent for Clearwater residents at the Clearwater Beach municipal marina from $6.94 to $9.13 per foot, with the intention of raising it to $15.50 by 2011. The marina lost several tenants, who weren’t willing to pay more than $9.

Councilman Paul Gibson suggested keeping the price at $9.13 for the foreseeable future instead of raising it to $15.50. Mayor Frank Hibbard said that he doesn’t have a problem with reducing the projected slip rent, but he doesn’t know what the right price is, and that even a marina that initially runs in the red would be good for the city.

The city’s finance director projected that cancelling the marina project would cost the city more than $2.3 million in money already spent or committed. And, it would not only cause the city to lose a $1.2 million grant but might also hurt the city’s reputation for reliability, thereby hurting its chances of getting future grants.

With the marina project going forward with little imminent chance of becoming self-supporting, Gibson suggested using Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue to build it. He said he would prioritize it and move it ahead of other projects. The city finance director said that there isn’t enough Penny money available, but the money could be borrowed from the city’s Central Insurance Fund until Penny funds become available. A public hearing will be required before Penny funds can be used for the project.