City working on new marina lease

MOORE HAVEN – City Council members had been ready to vote at their meeting on Sept. 5 on leasing Moore Haven’s Caloosahatchee River marina to a fishing guide who wants to run it and open a bait and tackle shop, until the city attorney advised examining the property’s site plan before putting details on paper due to discussion of where an outbuilding would go, future park amenities and maintenance.

After Hurricane Irma-related delays and a canceled meeting, though, those consultations finally took place and the council voted unanimously Tuesday, Oct. 3, to give a preliminary green light to a lease giving Robert Power a year’s free rent and a five-year contract with two optional five-year renewals. Now, Mr. Power, his brother-in-law/partner and their advisers will hammer out the rest of the details with city officials before expected final approval at the next council meeting on Oct. 17.

City Attorney Steve Ramunni explained: “What I have in there at this point is something that calls for no rent during the first year, which I think is what you all expressed, but I didn’t really get any clear guidance as to what you want to do in the future. We don’t have to arrive at that decision at this meeting, but we do at the next meeting. Do you want to call for an annual rental payment, which is a fixed or flat amount, or a rate based on a percentage of the gross? You are going to need to decide what direction you want to go in terms of the future after the first year. But at least your approving the concept will allow them to move forward, form their entity, start applying for insurance and get all that in place.”

When City Clerk Maxine Brantley asked, “Can he go ahead and move in tomorrow?” Mr. Ramunni answered, “He can start taking the steps he needs to, to get ready.”

Mayor Bret Whidden noted: “He needs to get in there to get things started. Sure, he’s got to have insurance, but we’re still covered for liability.” Councilman Jake Eighner responded: “The winter visitors are coming early, we’re seeing that now. They’re coming back to check on their boats. It’s not like he’s going to be making money out of there in the next two weeks, he’s going to be in there working.”

The council and Power also discussed Tuesday where a new outbuilding would go, but their talks were brief before the council voted. Much of the deal had been hashed out on Sept. 5.

That was when Power appeared before the council, having just filed his completed response to the city’s Request for Proposals the previous week, ready to answer questions. But he was unable to respond to some queries – concerning parking spaces for the various uses, grounds maintenance and placement of his planned live bait shed – because officials did not have the site map handy.

There seemed little doubt, however, that the council and Mr. Power’s limited-liability corporation would come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement because both were eager to get a business open at the facility. So officials then worked to get the legal documents ready for the next regular council meeting, scheduled Tuesday, Sept. 19. It got canceled because everyone was dealing with Irma’s aftermath.

Mr. Power introduced his business partner, his brother-in-law Brian Shadd from Arizona, then listened as council members discussed their proposal on Sept. 5.

The initial topic was how and what amount the city would charge Mr. Power to use the municipal marina and the building there. Mayor Whidden asked council members if there were any questions about the proposal.

Vice Mayor Dave McGee broached the one on everyone’s mind: “What are we entering in for the amount?” Mr. Whidden said, “That was one of my questions, too.”

He added that he thought the city should get a flat amount monthly, plus a share of dockage fees. “My understanding is that the docks down there would go in with the marina contract,” he said. “In the past when it was open before, I think the city got half of the dockage.”

City Attorney Ramunni said: “I think the two of you have identified what exactly we want done out there … the way you’ve approached it is that we have the building out there that’s ready to go, and then you also have the issue with the docks, and I don’t know if you want to tie that in (to the lease) or keep that separate,”

Councilman Eighner chimed in to suggest the city forgo collecting any rent for the first year, then reevaluate how the business was shaping up. “When we had the marina before and the city got half of the dockage, that’s really all that it was, was a dock. There wasn’t the overhead for the current manager to provide the soda, the ice, and (operate) the facilities that we provided for him,” he said. “And with it being a new business, I’m entertaining the idea of letting him have it (rent-free) for a year and reevaluating it and seeing what type of money that he’s bringing in.”

Public Works Director Jerri Lynn Schlueter interjected: “Along those same lines, about the utilities, is that going to stay under the city? Right now, it’s what we call a city account.” (The city pays for utilities to the building, as it does for the library.)

“That’s a very good point,” said the mayor. “I like the idea of leaving it the city’s because it’s going to open a business. That’s what we want is a business.”

But Councilman Eighner pushed his idea: “If we let him have it (free) for a year, then he’s going to have to be responsible for his electric bill because he’s running his shiner tanks and whoever he’s got docked down there. It’s not going to be a lot of electricity, regardless. I would like to see it for a year, and reevaluate, because you can tell he’s the type of person that he’s going to put everything he can into that marina to benefit not just himself but the entire city.”

Mayor Whidden responded, “The half of the dockage is pretty good. The sales and all is up to him, because he’s the one that’s going to spend about $25,000 or $30,000 on tanks and bait and stock and all of that, so I want a flat rate, monthly lease, and then we get half the dockage.” “That’s all we need,” said Councilwoman Pat Lucas. Mr. Whidden agreed, and Mr. McGee seemed to.

Mayor Whidden pointed out it would take Mr. Power many months to get the business established. “He’s not going to see a profit probably in the first two years, I know, but he wants to run a guide service out of there, and some other options he’s got in his plans, so I think we ought to make this as painless as possible. I want to get it open. I’m fine with that,” he said of Mr. Eighner’s idea.

Councilwoman Lucas said: “Give him a two-year period to get it going, but it is a business, and that’s the way we need to look at it. Reevaluate the second or third year, but five years, no. And we shouldn’t give away electric power for a business.”
All council members worried about some other operator undercutting him after he’s invested in the marina, if there were a trial period, but Mr. Ramunni said they would not have to open up the contract to bids. Other issues discussed included the city’s plans to use grant proceeds for picnic tables and other potential public uses of open space along the river, including staging fishing tournaments, plus parking.

Mr. Eighner asked if Mr. Power would keep an eye on the picnic tables when the city installs them. He answered, “If you put picnic tables down there, I want to fill them up with people!

“Ninety percent of my customers don’t even drive a vehicle; they’re going to be in a boat,” Mr. Power added. “The parking there is not going to be an issue, I will promise you that.”

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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