The Fernandina Beach City Commission approved a contract with Oasis Marinas to take over management of Fernandina Harbor Marina, a city-owned facility Westrec Marinas has managed for the past decade.
At Tuesday’s regular commission meeting, City Attorney Tammi Bach addressed concerns with the contract from the city’s Marina Advisory Board, some members of which operate businesses out of the marina. Those issues include controls on what Oasis can charge for slip rentals, preventative maintenance requirements and whether Oasis will honor agreements currently in place when it takes over operations on Dec. 1.
The contract calls for the city to pay Oasis $4,000 per month plus 1.5% of gross revenue generated through the marina. That revenue includes slip and mooring field rentals and charges for space on the northern and southern attenuators but does not include fuel revenue or rent collected from leases for retail operations such as Brett’s Waterway Café or Atlantic Seafood Bait and Tackle.
Advisory board members have voiced concerns Oasis will be able to set and change its dock rates at will, creating insecurity for long-term slip holders, but Bach explained the Florida Inland Navigation District, which has provided significant grant funding for projects such as dredging at the marina, has specific regulations regarding what the marina can charge for slip and mooring rates.
“There can be no preferential rates for city or Nassau County residents. We cannot give special rates to locals or other people. It’s a violation of our grant agreement with FIND,” Bach said. “Dockage rates have to be within market comparison with the dockage rates at other area marinas. At least 10% of the slips and mooring areas have to be available to transient vessels. That doesn’t mean only 10%. That (determination) will be left up to Oasis. I think the rates are pretty well set. There are some tight restrictions on them.”
Advisory board members said last week there are no specific requirements in the contract for preventative maintenance of the marina. Bach said city Fleet and Facilities Maintenance Director Jeremiah Glisson met with Oasis officials and determined what maintenance – such as structural issues – would be the responsibility of the city and what will be Oasis’ responsibility, including deck boards and fire extinguishers.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger suggested Oasis follow maintenance guidelines set by the manufacturers of docks at the marina, but both Oasis CEO Dan Cowens and Bach said having a specific list of maintenance items to be performed by Oasis would not be a good idea. The city and the company could use guidelines of performance set out in the contract, they said, with Oasis “provid(ing) services in a first class, professional manner in accordance with customary industry standards for guests, patrons and visitors of the property.”
Commissioner Mike Ledno-vich asked Cowens how the company’s performance can be objectively evaluated. Cowen said Oasis uses “secret shoppers” to rate marina management as well as providing customer surveys to every boater who stays in their facilities. He said information from the surveys would be made available to the city.
Bach said short-term agreements that boaters have with Westrec, such as month-to-month slip rentals, will expire when Oasis takes over, but long-term agreements will continue to be honored.
Mayor Johnny Miller told Oasis officials there have been issues in the past with businesses that want to locate in the marina and asked Cowens how the company determines which businesses can operate out of the marina.
“What we look at is the vision for the city and what reflects what the city is looking for,” Cowens said. “If we had an operator that wants to come in and we are unsure if that fits with the vision of the city, we would come back to this body and see how it fits in. What is the business they are operating and what is the availability? Is it going to displace higher yield that would come in and spend more money in the town? The things we think about are not just strictly getting another entity into the facility. It’s understanding the collective vision for the town.”
Miller said the marina operator should have a specific process in place to determine if a company can operate out of the marina.
Kevin McCarthy, chairman of the advisory board and owner and operator of Amelia River Cruises, which operates out of the marina, said he feels comfortable, both as a board member and as a business owner, with how Bach and the city addressed the advisory board’s concerns.
“Personally, I’m excited to see a new operator come,” McCarthy said. “We would like to see the marina do better and great things going forward.”
Brian Arnold, vice president of business development for Oasis, told the News-Leader he is “super excited” about Fernandina Harbor Marina. “We understand it is a big deal to be entrusted with the marina, and we don’t take it lightly,” Arnold said. “We are looking forward to getting going and proving what we can do what we say we can do. Fernandina is a gem.”