Some of the docks at the Isle of Palms marina survived the wrath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They won’t have to last much longer if local voters approve major renovations at the city-owned facility located at the confluence of Morgan Creek and the Intracoastal Waterway.
A referendum scheduled for Nov. 7 will most likely determine the fate of a plan to borrow $5.5 million to replace all the docks, pave the parking lot and build a boardwalk, among other improvements. Mayor Dick Cronin pointed out that the vote is binding “spiritually” but not legally, which, he said, means he and the Council will bow to the will of the people.
The $5.5 million Isle of Palms intends to borrow would be paid off with revenue the city receives from leasing the marina to various businesses and from the city’s Tourism Fund, which includes the accommodations tax collected on hotel rooms and the hospitality tax charged on prepared food. The project “will not be a burden on the citizens of Isle of Palms,” said Cronin, who has been mayor since 2009.
He agreed with Marina Manager Brian Berrigan that the renovations at the marina, purchased by the city from the Finch family in 1999, are necessary.
“The underlying problem is that the town has owned the marina for almost 20 years and has put very little into structural improvements,” Cronin explained.
“Some of the docks were there in the early 1980s, even before Hugo,” Berrigan added. “They needed to be replaced when the city purchased the property in 1999. We’ve kind of been throwing band-aids on them ever since. The docks have outlived their life expectancy by several years. We’re just throwing money at them every year to keep them floating. They are in dire need of being replaced.”
The purchase price for the marina in 1999 was $4,106,786. Cronin pointed out that the city is about to pay off that debt.
“In recent years, the leases paid more than the debt on the marina,” the mayor said, adding that the town has shouldered other costs, including insurance and replacing the wooden bulkhead. “A small part of the Tourism Fund will be used to pay off the new bonds. In fact, it’s reasonable to think that the lease income will pay off the bonds.”
Over a two-and-a-half-year period, city officials received input from local residents and members of the City Council and the Planning Commission before coming up with the plan that will be presented to voters in November. According to Cronin, IOP intends to spend $2.2 million on the water side to replace the floating docks, the marina’s fuel system and utilities, and another $1.9 million on land for the boardwalk, to pave the parking lot, for utilities and for storm water management. He said the remainder of the $5.5 million will cover engineering, permitting and contingency – $700,000 that would pay for any unexpected costs that might arise as the project progresses.
The plan includes a parking area for golf carts and for boats with trailers, along with a dedicated kayak dock. Under the current arrangements, kayaks must enter the water at the boat ramp.
“We’re going to improve access and egress,” Cronin said. “The docks will soon be unsafe, and the arrangement now is chaotic and unsafe in some cases. This will be a first-class marina.”
If the referendum passes, work is expected to begin late in 2018 or in early 2019.
Businesses currently located at the marina include Morgan Creek Grill, Marina Market, Barrier Island Eco Tours, Salt Works Catering Co. and Tidal Wave Watersports.
“We don’t expect any more business volume there than we have now,” Cronin said.
The mayor pointed out that boaters traveling up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, usually headed south in the fall and north in the spring, can rent space at the marina “for one night or two or three or four nights.” But he added that “the vast majority of the people who use the marina are East Cooper residents.”
“So many people on the island enjoy boating. The citizens of this area will get to use it and, frankly, they won’t have to pay for it,” Cronin said. “It’s available for local residents 12 months out of the year, while visitors are here mostly in June, July and August and maybe May.”
Is there any reason not to renovate the Isle of Palms marina? Cronin doesn’t see one.
“If there is an argument against it, I can’t give it to you,” the mayor commented. “But any time you spend money, some people are going to say, ‘We don’t need that.”’
“There are safety issues,” added Berrigan, who has managed the marina since 1999. “It’s overdue for a revitalization. It’s time to get into the 21st century.”
“The marina is what I call the crown jewel of the city’s assets. It deserves to be treated as such,” he concluded.
By Brian Sherman