St. Petersburg City Council members punted a request from Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration to move forward with plans to implement a 25-year lease for a private company to operate the city’s municipal marina.
A motion to move the matter to second reading Aug. 12 died Thursday on first reading for a lack of a second to the motion.
At issue are plans to hand off management of the 650 boat slip property to a private contractor, Safe Harbor Development, which would have taken on a 25-year lease under the entity St. Pete Marina, LLC.
Had the matter moved to second reading and been approved, it would have gone before voters on the Nov. 2 citywide ballot, a vote required for long-term leases on city-owned waterfront property.
City Council members expressed a variety of concerns, including that a long-term lease would essentially privatize a city asset. Members also expressed frustration in what they perceived as a lack of communication from city staff and a lack of trust.
City Council Vice Chair Gina Driscoll said it seemed like there was bias in information coming from the administration, which appeared to push heavily for the private contractor not just to manage the property but to handle renovation plans for aging infrastructure at the marina.
A master plan of the marina adopted in 2017 found that structural elements were nearing the end of their useful life and would require renovation or replacement.
City Council members all agreed a conversation about renovation should continue but minus consideration for a long-term lease. Members were split on the option to instead discuss a five-year lease but agreed to back pedal talks to committee, setting the matter for discussion at a Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting Sept. 16.
Under the proposed lease, Safe Harbor Development would have been required to manage and operate the marina and fund capital improvements identified in the 2017 master plan. It would have also included a series of bench marks, including sustainability and resiliency requirements. Safe Harbor Development would have also had to pay an undisclosed amount in rent to the city.
Some prescribed improvements to the marina, which will likely be part of ongoing discussions, include dock replacement, support facilities replacement or remodeling, and installation of wave attenuation systems — breakwater devices that prevent coastal erosion.
The St. Petersburg Municipal Marina has been publicly owned and operated since it was constructed in the 1970s.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin was on hand for Thursday’s discussion and pushed back against Council member claims — including from Darden Rice, who is running for Mayor this year, and City Council Chair Ed Montanari — that the issue should wait until a new mayoral administration is installed. That will occur in January after the results of November’s municipal election, of which Rice and Blackmon are top-polling candidates.
Rice defended her assertion, arguing trust in the administration has been eroded, not just on the marina debate but on plans to redevelop the Tropicana Field site.
“Until there’s trust in the process … I think we’re just going to keep spinning our wheels,” she said.
Others, including Council members Lisa Wheeler Bowman and Amy Foster, rejected that argument.
“People elected us to keep things moving,” Foster said.
And Tomalin pointed out conversations, both with Council and the community, have been ongoing for two years.
City staff agreed to head back to the drawing board, vowing to come back to Council, presumably at the Sept. 16 committee meeting, with a side-by-side comparison of redevelopment costs under a city-led model and through a private contract. Previous information provided Council showed a potential $20 million more in city costs to undertake renovations internally versus through a private contract.
The decision to move the conversation back to the committee process was approved unanimously.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated Robert Blackmon, a candidate for Mayor, said the issue should wait for the next administration. He actually said the opposite.