By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Contributing Editor
About a hundred Isle of Palms citizens turned out for the first hour of the community meeting on the proposed “Marina Enhancement and Community Revitalization Project,” held on Oct. 12. The question of whether to take on a $5.5 million bond to finance the project is on the ballot at the city’s Nov. 7 election this year.
This was the second community meeting on the subject, the first was an informal open house at the marina, held on Sept. 27. This meeting was billed as an “informational community meeting” and took place at the Recreation Center. The format of tables with informational sheets,a 3D rendering of the project and large display boards with more detail about the project, appeared designed to encourage people to walk around and explore the project. However, after a short presentation the evening turned into a question and answer session, with marina representatives, city staff and staff from the engineering and design firms involved in the project fielding questions from an audience planted firmly against the walls.
Almost universally, those who posed questions praised the “beautiful” design of the project, which, along with providing essential improvements to the structures of the marina, will create a waterfront park, introduce a public dock and fix the problematic parking area by adding pedestrian pathways, landscaping and designated zones for different traffic. However, the majority of the questions focused on the cost of the project, including whether city monies could be better spent on issues such as drainage and beach renourishment, and what the real worth to the residents of this investment would be.
Brian Berrigan, who owns The Marina Market and Marina Joint Ventures, the entity that manages the docks, stepped up to answer a number of questions regarding how the marina serves IOP residents. In response to a question about how many docks there are and how a resident can use them, Berrigan explained that the dock space is determined on linear footage, so the size of the boats determine how many spaces there are. He said he plans to serve residents first, then the space will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. He explained that currently residents pay the same dockage fee as everyone else, but there is discount for island residents to launch from the marina ($5 year round). A yearly resident decal for $100 was temporarily halted due to parking issues but Berrigan assured those present that the decal would come back.
Asked why residents pay the same fee to rent slippage space, he said: “When we took over the marina we had four tenants [in his designated dock space], so we opened it to everybody because island residents weren’t knocking on our door. It’s a new phenomenon to have residents needing dockage.”
He then informed the crowd that his current tenants [small commercial entities, including Osprey Boat Charters, Barrier Island Eco Tours, Ocean Fitness and Coastal Expeditions] have been told their leases will not be renewed at the end of the year. To those residents currently on the waitlist for dock space he assured that they will be given preference in the new marina set up.
IOP City Administrator Linda Lovvorn Tucker responded to questions regarding the management of the marina, including explaining that the current tenant cannot sell his business without the council’s blessing on the new tenant, and that any changes to rates for the marina must go through city council.
The issue of how the marina is financed came up. Tucker explained that the operations are financed through funds generated by the marina, including rents, hospitality tax and business license fees, saying the five year average income is $400,000. She explained that Accommodations Tax funds have been used to fund the debt taken on to purchase the marina, as was outlined when the property was purchased in 1999. It was bought following a referendum that was overwhelmingly supported by residents to maintain public access to the water, as opposed to allowing condos to be built on the site.
One resident asked what will happen should the referendum not pass, questioning whether there is an alternative plan for repairing the docks, which are approximately 30 years old. As landlord, the city is responsible for the docks, the underground fuel storage tanks, the bulkheads and dredging.
“If it doesn’t end favorably it will be similar to what happened with the drainage,” Tucker said.
“Many will recall that there was a referendum on that issue that did not end favorably, so we have had to save and save and save, and do things piecemeal.”
Additionally, replacing the fuel tanks has already been budgeted, and will be replaced this winter along with those at the Public Works facility, at a cost of $700,000.
The referendum question will be on the ballot at the election on Tuesday, Nov. 7. For more information on the Marina Enhancement and Community Revitalization Project see the Sept. 12 article in Island Eye News (islandeyenews.com/5-5-million-marina-project-on-ballotfor-november-7-election/), and visitiop.net/marina-enhancementcommunity-revitalization-plan.