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Vero Council puzzler: What to do about City Marina


When it comes to the Vero Beach City Marina, the only thing City Council members agree on is that it isn’t living up to what they want in a  first-class mooring, fuel service and storage facility to serve residents and tourists.

After that, some council members want to lease the marina to a private company on a long-term basis, some favor hiring someone to take over the management and upkeep, and some want to give the existing staff one more chance to get the marina shipshape.

After fishing around for management proposals for a while, the City Council had the purchasing department put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for companies wishing to lease the marina.

That effort resulted in two worthy proposals, including one from a company formed by a coalition of well-respected, established Vero families. Spearheaded by members of the Kennedy citrus family and Proctor Construction, the group pitched a deal to undertake the much-needed capital repairs, manage the marina and pay the City of Vero Beach $300,000 annually to lease the marina property.

The marina currently grosses about $450,000, which pays the facility’s debt and expenses – and pads the city’s general fund to the tune of about $100,000 in a good year. When capital projects are on the to-do list or there’s storm damage, the city often pumps much or all of that $100,000 back into marina upgrades and repairs.

Mayor Harry Howle says the city needs to negotiate a better deal that will provide more than $300,000 annual rent. The other bidder, which manages marinas all over the country, also wants a chance to come back with a more attractive proposal.

Due to rules governing city procurement, Vero can’t just go off and negotiate terms with several bidders at once, so despite the desire to improve the marina immediately, the council voted to tweak the previous RFP to allow for a management-only option.

Attorney Bruce Barkett, who represents the Kennedy/Proctor group, said his clients are not interested in management only. One advantage the group brings to the table is having Proctor Construction available to make marina improvements, and they want to be able to recoup the cost of renovations via a long-term lease.

City Manager Jim O’Connor said the matter puts him in a precarious position moving into high season with Harbormaster Tim Grabenbauer and the current marina staff. “What if the Harbormaster decides to retire after this?” O’Connor said.

He proposed looking at the possibility of bringing a consultant or management company to manage the marina in the short term and identify issues and needed repairs.

O’Connor said it would take about three weeks to put out a new RFP, after which city staff would contact qualified firms and give them time to respond. The local Vero families would also be given a chance to sweeten their offer.

Councilwoman Laura Moss cautioned the council that the city’s recent flurry of activity in soliciting bids to privatize city facilities and then taking no action has caused interest in the bidding process to flag.

“We’re getting the reputation of being lookie-loos,” Moss said, explaining that it takes a great deal of time and resources to put together complex proposals to meet the city’s criteria, and some bidders feel like they are wasting their time.

Councilman Val Zudans has said it doesn’t hurt to float RFPs to see what comes back – even if the city ends up deciding not to privatize the program or facility.

In the short term, Vice Mayor Lange Sykes, who said he uses the marina frequently to purchase fuel, demanded that the city complete some of the very basic repairs and maintenance for which money has already been approved. For example, Sykes said, the city bought paint and painting supplies but the marina stands partially painted.

O’Connor said he would handle the immediate issues.