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Fernandina Beach Harbor: Welcoming Port For Seafaring Visitors

Fernandina Beach is the gateway to Florida on the water for mariners heading south (Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Mile 716). Westrec Marinas took over marina operations in 2010.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing Columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Steve’s Marketplace column.

Cruise Ship, Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina, Amelia Island, Florida
Cruise Ship, Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina, Amelia Island, Florida

When the public and private sectors come together, miraculous things can happen.

It seems like a miracle that the Fernandina Beach city marina is returning to life. After years of mounting sludge deposits and decaying facilities and shrinking boat traffic, the marina is coming alive and bustling with activity.

Since city officials hired a private firm, Westrec, to manage the marina, changes are underway — with the city’s help, of course. It is all for the better.

A tiny building along the docks has been converted into a store, serving beer and wine, as well as limited groceries and boating supplies. A new computer system is being used to create a database of customers and inventory. The bathhouse has been upgraded, and a new boaters’ lounge offers a big-screen television. And high-speed internet capabilities are being developed.

Fernandina Beach, Florida Welcoming Port For Seafaring Visitors
Fernandina Beach, Florida Welcoming Port For Seafaring Visitors (Photo M.K. Marino)

It’s beginning to sound a like a place where transient boats may want to stop as they travel along the Intracoastal Waterway. Many contend that passing boaters have bypassed the city marina for years now, deterred by an overall lack of appeal and accommodations.

During spring and fall, a parade of exquisite yachts travels along the Intracoastal, moving between the north and south depending on the season. Downtown merchants would welcome such travelers to their stores, restaurants and businesses.

It will take time, but eventually these high-caliber visitors will return to the first port and marina you reach in Florida. The island’s amenities, from the historic downtown to the beaches to the lush resorts, are quite appealing to visitors.

Public-private partnerships are also being widely used on the federal levels. Local officials have explored similar partnerships that have worked, and others that have not. A marina partnership between the city and a group of businesspeople flopped more than 30 years ago, for instance.

Fernandina Beach Marina, Intracoastal Waterway Mile 716 Florida
Fernandina Beach Marina, Intracoastal Waterway Mile 716 Florida (Photo W.B. Lawson)

However, this does not prevent future partnerships from being entertained. One local businessman has suggested exploring a similar partnership at the old post office building in downtown. Another idea would be to bring in a marine extension office of a college or university there.

Westrec is a national firm, but has gotten involved with the local community, sponsoring events and contributing to associations. The previous arrangement at the marina (until this year), whereby city employees ran the operations, could not compete with the capabilities, resources, and experience of a private company such as Westrec.

Steve Nicklas

The privatization of the city golf course is also being explored right now. Many golf courses are shutting down or limiting play during this brutal economic decline. It is not fair to categorize the golf course with the marina here; the golf course has been busy and self-sustaining for quite some time, at least until the recession impacted play.

If done properly, the public-private unison can be a beautiful thing. And miracles can happen. Wipe your eyes, and look to the west, at the waterline — you can see proof.
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(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor who lives on Amelia Island. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or via eMail at [email protected])

Note from editor: More details on Fernandina Beach marina improvements and Westrec:

The Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina has undergone a complete modernization over the past few years, part of the city’s “Waterfront Master Plan.” The $6.2 million dollar renovations include 65,000 cubic yards of dredging (in 2006 and 2009) providing draft for large vessels, new docks, bathhouse with laundry and showers, electrical and potable water amenities, fire suppression services and complete landscaping. The Fernandina Harbor Marina is located directly on the ICW via a well marked, charted and easy-to-navigate Federal Shipping Channel six miles from the Atlantic. With 5,875 linear feet of dockage which provides 60 lineal side-tie slips and 20 moorings, a 25′ depth at mean low water beyond the attenuator and 6′ at inside slips allows yachts (up to 200′) and boats of all sizes to take advantage of the most modern of marinas while enjoying the amenities the community offers. The marina welcomes local boaters and transient yachtsmen as well as fishing, sailing and sightseeing charters, and ferries. High season is spring (March-June) and autumn (September-December). Low season offers great rates and includes the months of August, January and February. The marina also includes space for 30 boats with trailers and 10 live-aboards. Total land mass is 8-10 acres with five acres dedicated to the marina basin. The marina is open from sunrise to sunset seven days a week. As the world’s largest owner operator of marinas and marine-related businesses, Westrec Marinas provides professional management services to its properties, affiliates and clients throughout the world. Founded in 1987, Westrec manages marina facilities located both in fresh and salt water environments, handling vessels ranging in size from personal watercraft to megayachts.
Source: Westrec press release.