Making Waves In The Marina Business

Steeven Knight is absolutely in his element right now. He loves boats, and he thinks big. He slavishly obeys the law of supply and demand. His mantra is service.

Back in July, the animated, 49-year-old Fort Myers resident shelled out $42 million for land in Tampa’s hot south West Shore area – on Old Tampa Bay – that housed Bayside Marina and Rattlefish Raw Bar & Grill. In approximately a year – and another $32 million later — it will be converted into the Tampa Harbour Yacht Club.

Knight is ushering in the pricey, exclusive new world of “dockominiums” to the Tampa Bay market. Tampa Harbour YC is part of a national trend of marinas being turned into private-ownership, condo-like clubs. Members actually purchase boat dockage space as real property. They pay taxes, monthly association fees ($275 for THYC) and build equity. Unit ownership is fee simple by warranty deed and title policy.

Knight, the founder of Fort Myers-based Yacht Clubs of the Americas (YCOA) says it’s a classic case of the right product – and service — at the right time.

Florida is a primo recreation state with more than 1 million registered boaters. That figure will only go up – even as the number of marina slips declines. Last year some 2,000 slips were lost as prime waterfront land was sold to condo and hotel developers.

“The mom and pop marinas are a thing of the past,” says Knight. “The dirt is too valuable to operate ‘old style’ marinas. But contrary to popular belief, we are actually preserving marinas. This will be a marina for life.” One, he pointedly adds, that will probably sell social memberships and leave open a fuel dock for the public.

There will be nothing “old style,” promises Knight, about Tampa Harbour YC, where slips will run $300,000-$600,000 for wet and $125,000-$240,000 for dry. Plans call for 40 wet slips and 700 dry racks. In addition, Rattlefish RB&G will eventually close to the public and reopen as a private restaurant for club members.

His market, he says, is a combination of avid boaters and investors.

The key, emphasizes Knight, is to afford boaters as much R&R time as possible and leave the maintenance and other time-consuming details to staff.

“We will deliver 5-star concierge service,” states Knight. “We will create the standard in the boating industry.” Among the amenities: unlimited in/out service; a harbor master and staff; soap washdown and engine flushing; fuel and provisions at wholesale prices; owners’ lounge; gourmet deli/coffee shop; spa and fitness center; swimming pool; 24-hour security; and reciprocal privileges at other clubs.

Club reciprocity is no throw-in. Tampa will join YCOA’s up-and-running Sanibel Harbour Yacht Club. In 2007 Knight also plans to open affiliate clubs in Naples and New Smyrna. The following year he expects to debut Key West and Stuart. Also in the mix – and under contract – St. Augustine and Charleston, SC. Under consideration: Fort Lauderdale and Destin. On the radar: Cancun and The Bahamas.

“We want to tie it all together as a self-sustaining network of use,” explains Knight. “Members can make trips all around and use their memberships. Berth for free.”

Count Jean Baer, a Sanibel realtor, as a boater-investor-believer. She and her husband paid $133,000 (pre-construction) for a dry rack at Sanibel Harbour YC.

“It’s a terrific concept,” assesses Baer. “It’s a double plus. It’s an investment, and it’s really opened up more possibilities from a recreation standpoint. We (including two sons, 13 and 16) don’t have to wait for dad to get the boat out on Saturday. And the service has been great. I’m still not used to it. They help you anyway they can.”

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