Business owners worry as St. Pete officials revive plans to redevelop municipal marina

David Sockol has poured blood, sweat and tears into his St. Petersburg restaurant, Fresco’s, for the past two decades.

"I built the outdoor deck and paid for the awning and all of the improvements to the property," he said. "We do consider it a Fresco’s family."

Now, he worries all of it, along with Fresco’s itself, could be washed away depending on whom the mayor chooses to redevelop and run the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. City officials say it needs a facelift, and they’re looking for a developer and operator to redevelop the prime piece of real estate. 

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The city recently released requests for proposals for the marina. They say its infrastructure is deteriorating. 

Interested groups have the option to redevelop and run the restaurant. The RFP says "The physical condition of the restaurant is such that a complete replacement is envisioned," and that it needs to match the surrounding downtown waterfront.

"I understand why they might want a facelift to make it into more conformity with that new look of the rest of the pier, and I'm willing to do that, any type of facelift they’d like or even pay for it," Sockol said.

"If they think that's necessary, then include us so at least I have the potential to let 20 years of a restaurant that's been here since before St. Pete was popular, to have a chance to maybe go for another 10 years," he said.

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FOX 13 asked the city’s development team if there’s an opportunity for Sockol to update the restaurant to the city’s standards.

"It is the City’s desire to re-imagine this site to ensure it is redeveloped to be commensurate with the new St. Pete Pier and the surrounding downtown waterfront," they said in response. "The existing restaurant building is at the end of its useful service life. Additionally, performing the required seawall and waterside repairs would be extremely challenging, if not impossible, if the building were to remain."

Sockol said he has hired a few engineers to check the building to make sure it’s physically sound. He said they all told him the building is fine. His lease is up next year. 

According to the city’s RFP, the marina’s bulkheads were built in the 1910s and the 1920s, and the docks are 40 to 50 years old.

The City Development Administrator said in a statement, "This is just the next step in the revitalization of the marina and we look forward to finding a partner that sees the potential of this landmark in our community."

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Other business owners in the marina said they agree that it needs upgrades, but don’t think an outside developer should redevelop the space. The group chosen will lease the marina from the city and pay for the project, other than seawall restoration, which the city would pay for.

According to the city, the rent amount will be up to the proposers to decide in their offers. Right now, the Marina covers its operating and capital repair costs and current debt service costs, and still provides the city’s General Fund with a return on investment, a contribution for City General Administrative charges as well as a payment in lieu of taxes.

The RFP says all marina staff will be given the opportunity to interview with the developer. City officials clarified, though, this doesn’t include restaurant staff. 

It’s not the first time the city has tried to redevelop the marina. 

In 2016, the city started the Marina Master Plan process to give guidance for long-term marina redevelopments. Near the end of that process, the city got an unsolicited offer from a marina development company looking to privately fund the redevelopment of the marina in return for the ability to manage and operate it under a lease agreement. 

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City officials invited any other proposals and received three. After looking at them all, officials chose Safe Harbor Development based out of Tennessee, but then ultimately decided not to move forward with the company.

"The administration decided the process used for the previous proposals [which started with an unsolicited offer] did not allow the City a chance to present its goals and objectives for proposers to consider and provide responses," the city development team said. "The current RFP includes Guiding Principles, Redevelopment Elements and Proposal Requirements that interested proposers will need to address. This will allow the City of St. Petersburg to evaluate proposals against these criteria."

Some of those guiding principles, according to the RFP, include making sure the marina integrates "seamlessly" into the downtown waterfront area, ensuring that the project is privately funded and providing opportunities for commercial vessels and transient dockage, among others. Developers also have to address parking, the phases of redevelopment and the utility systems.

The RFP also says the city is looking for a developer and operator that has significant experience in developing and operating marinas in a saltwater environment.

If the mayor chooses a proposal that includes the restaurant option, the city will enter into a separate 10-year lease agreement with the proposer for the redevelopment and operation of the restaurant, according to the RFP.

Proposals are due by 10 a.m. on July 14.