Westrec Marinas has been managing the Fernandina Harbor Marina for 10 years under a contract that’s set to expire in December. With the management and maintenance of the city-owned facility a point of contention since last year, the City Commission issued a Request For Proposals earlier this year.
Westrec did not respond to the allegations of neglect as the city went through a protracted process of reviewing responses to its RFP. The company also didn’t submit its own proposal to that RFP or make a presentation to the RFP’s evaluation committee.
But at the Aug. 24 meeting of the city’s Marina Advisory Board, Marina Manager and Westrec employee Joe Springer gave a detailed report of what the company has done while managing the marina, and Westrec Vice President James Frye sent an email answering the reports.
“We accept the responsibility for the marina, and we think we’ve done a pretty darn good job at it,” Springer said.
Many of the objections by critics of Westrec have been about the performance of the company since Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. They allege the company has not maintained the marina, which has caused delays in getting the entire marina operational, especially the mooring field. Springer addressed those concerns as well.
Springer said the city allowed the marina to access FacilityDude, software that tracks maintenance work orders. During the 2015-16 fiscal year, Springer said, 1,055 work orders for the marina were documented, and many more smaller tasks were completed without issuing a work order. “But, we have documented that we have maintained the marina,” he said.
The marina was heavily damaged by the hurricane, and since then, Springer said, the outside wave attenuator has been replaced, docks 4 and 9 have been removed, and a north-south orientation has been accomplished by the installation of a second parallel dock. A dinghy dock and a day dock have also been installed.
Springer said Westrec put a lot of work into the marina after Matthew.
“We coordinated the reinstallation of the gangways, reconnected the dock sections that had separated, stabilized the docks, secured the fuel system, completed repairs to the walkway around Brett’s (Waterway Café) and repaired the north and south dock,” he said. “Dock 2 had whalers, boards and plumbing replaced. After the contractor was able to get to dock 3, they determined repairs were needed, and that was done.”
“When the dust settled after Hurricane Matthew, it was determined all three docks were going to be refurbished or replaced. It has always been our working plan to keep all the docks safe, and we did,” he said. “However, knowing they were going to be replaced, consideration was given for the cost of each and every repair and the lifetime of that repair. Did it make sense to do a 20-year repair on a dock that was going out in six months?
“The mooring field stayed open and operational every year. The only time the mooring field was down was when the city ordered the marina to close. While the mooring field was out of service, we continued to follow our maintenance plan to have every mooring ball checked for defects. We ordered and installed replacement components where needed and returned the mooring field back to full operation when the marina opened in January.”
Springer said Westrec applied for and received more than $1 million in grants for the marina, including a 50-50 grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District for the mooring field.
The marina manager also said Westrec has been successful at marketing the marina and servicing boaters.
Revenue from dockage increased every year before Hurricane Matthew, as did gallons of fuel sold, but no fuel has been sold since Oct. 6, 2016, according to Springer. He told the News-Leader Tuesday he does not want to guess when the new fuel dock will start operating.
In 2015-16, the marina had 14,400 boat nights, Springer said, and 155 of the 165 reviews of the Fernandina Harbor Marina on Active Captain have been five-star.
He said that since the marina reopened in January, even without fuel, there have been “many 100% sell out nights.”
Frye’s email said he did not attend the MAB meeting due to concerns with flying during the coronavirus pandemic. In the email, read by Springer, he addressed the issue of why Westrec did not participate in the RFP process.
“It was my expectation that our existing agreement would be considered along with responses to the RFP,” Frye wrote, referring to part of the RFP that said, “The relationship between the City and Westrec remains viable.”
Before the city issued the RFP, the marina board voted to recommend to the City Commission that Westrec remain in place for one year after the marina is fully operational, including fueling services, but the City Commission did not act on that recommendation.
Frey thanked the MAB for its support, acknowledging “the limitations on (the MAB’s) influence.”
A committee that evaluated the RFPs, and ultimately gave Oasis Marinas the highest scores of the companies that responded, was made up of City Attorney Tammi Bach, Comptroller Pauline Testagrose, Airport Manager Nathan Coyle, and MAB member Coleman Langshaw, a former manager of the Fernandina Harbor Marina.
That committee conducted detailed analysis, including studying the financial projections of each company, which made up 40% of its score.
At the MAB meeting, Langshaw noted revenue can fluctuate with fuel prices and how the economy is affecting boating, and that while financial considerations are important, they are not the only aspect of marina management.
“When we want somebody to run this marina, we want somebody who can do good hospitality, good marketing, good staff training,” he said. “When the marina wasn’t doing so well, the one thing that kept this marina going was good staff and management. Those were really important. We had a pretty crappy facility for a long time, and yet the management was able to make people come here. Focus on the money, but, from a manager’s standpoint, what you need is the big picture.”
Langshaw said that while there is often 100% occupancy at the marina during peak season, a management firm needs to “broaden” that season, working toward bringing in business year-round.
Oasis Vice President Brian Arnold said the company owns Marinalife, a magazine targeted at boaters, and Snag-a-Slip, a service that connects boaters to rentals, and can use those properties to market the marina and grow its active season. Arnold said, as he has in previous presentations, that Oasis has the ability to influence boaters, steering them specifically to Fernandina Beach.
MAB member Jerry Decker suggested the board recommend to the City Commission that the decision on a marina management company be deferred until after the November election, when at least two and possibly a third City Commission seat would change. Decker reasoned that the new commission would be in place during the tenure of the new management company, so it should be the one that chooses the company.
Langshaw said deferring a decision would politicize the issue and “kick the can down the road.”
The board was split on that vote, with Paul Lore, Allen Mills, Scott Stewart and Langshaw voting not to recommend a delay and Joe Blanchard, Decker and Kevin McCarthy voting to recommend the City Commission delay the decision.
In the end, the MAB voted unanimously – with the exception of Langshaw, who abstained since he was part of the evaluation committee – to accept the rankings of the committee, but stayed with a recommendation to the City Commission to allow Westrec to remain the marina management firm for one year after fueling services are restored.
Then, the MAB recommended a new RFP for marina management should be issued “at the appropriate time.”
While the agenda for the Sept. 1 City Commission meeting has not been published, the MAB’s recommendation will be available to the commission before that meeting.