The City of Gulfport, Florida, developed a concept plan in 2016 that would tear down the Boca Ciega Yacht Club, Lions Club, and Gulfport Yacht Club, and build a large, multipurpose building in the south parking lot of the marina as shown in the image above. The clubs would share use of this building. The plan was vetted at one public meeting in 2016 and was not well received. Now the city wants to move forward with the plan.
Join a group of residents called "Friends of the Gulfport Marina" who are asking the City Council to require more constructive public engagement about the future of the Marina. We aren't against change, but we do want to help shape that change so it meets the needs of our community.
Our letter to the City Council is below, followed by our summary of the issues.
We have delivered our letter to the City Council, but if you agree with our thoughts, please sign on anyway!
Dear Mayor Henderson, Vice Mayor Thanos, Council Member Brown, Council Member Fridovich, and Council Member Ray:
We, the undersigned residents of Gulfport, are referring to ourselves as "Friends of the Gulfport Marina." We thank you for reversing the eviction of the Boca Ciega Yacht Club (BCYC) and continuing their lease while refining plans for the future of the Marina. It is wise to move slowly before destroying public buildings without a complete plan and financing in place to replace them.
We believe that making changes to the marina could be beneficial to many stakeholders; however, we also believe that such changes are optional--not critically required--at this time. We also recognize that if funding comes to the city for infrastructure improvements, there could be priorities that are in competition with the marina for these funds.
We also recognize from the experience at the City Council meeting on April 6, 2021, that members of the City Council and members of the public are frustrated and have strong feelings about the process and decisions related to the Marina Concept Plan. There are many reasons for this, but it is clear that the current approach is not creating a feeling of shared problem solving, and could lead to decisions that may be regretted in the future.
For these reasons, we respectfully ask that the City Council direct the city manager to do the following:
- Based on the spectrum of public participation developed by the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2), determine that planning the future of the marina is a project that warrants a level of public participation that IAP2 calls "Collaborate." Projects in this category are characterized by the following:
- Public participation goal: To partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.
- Promise to the public: We will work together with you to formulate solutions and incorporate your advice and recommendations into the decisions to the maximum extent possible.
- Direct city staff to cancel any existing plans to demolish the buildings housed by the BCYC, Lions Club, and Gulfport Yacht Club until the future of the marina is determined and funded.
- Work with residents to select an independent facilitator trained in public participation to create a process to evaluate the Marina Concept Plan and work with the community to develop alternatives. Use rent from the BCYC to help fund this work.
- Assess Gulfport residents' priorities for infrastructure improvements and evaluate whether marina improvements are the top priority as the next project to fund.
We understand that the city would like to expedite decision making in anticipation of federal infrastructure funding that may come with deadlines. While a public engagement process does take time, we believe we can make progress quickly. Our "Friends of Gulfport Marina" group has already drafted a summary of the issues raised by residents to date, along with recommendations for the City about ways to proceed. These materials are attached to this letter.
We, the undersigned residents, plan to continue to work as the Friends of the Marina to find paths forward that could address all of the stakeholders' needs. We very much want to do this as a partner with the City of Gulfport.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Friends of the Gulfport Marina
Friends of the Gulfport Marina First Meeting
Monday, April 12, 2021
Meeting at Judy Kuhn's home
Alison Ritchey, Paige Shaw, Judy Kuhn, Brian Derr, Mary Hanrahan
The Gulfport City Council recently decided to evict the Boca Ciega Yacht Club (BCYC) as a first step in moving forward on a concept plan for changes to the Gulfport Marina as drafted in 2016. This plan would tear down the Lions Club, Boca Ciega Yacht Club, and Gulfport Yacht Club, and house these clubs in a new, elevated building adjacent to the south side of the large marina basin.
At the following meeting of the city council on April 6, 2021, many residents spoke against the decision and about the lack of clarity, consensus, and funding for the concept plan. The council voted to direct the city manager to rescind the eviction and allow BCYC to lease the building month-to-month, while moving forward to refine the concept plan.
Brian, Alison, Paige, Judy, and Mary, all residents of the Marina District, met to discuss how we might partner with the city on this project. We are calling ourselves "Friends of the Gulfport Marina." The following summarizes our discussion of the issues, the process, and our thoughts about how to move forward in a constructive way.
The Gulfport City Council and city manager have made a number of upgrades that have improved the appearance of our city and the marina. In particular, the new black fence and landscaping at the marina look great. We believe there can be more improvements to the marina.
We have heard these concerns
At the city council meeting and in our conversation, we have heard many concerns raised that should be fully vetted with the community to resolve. We did not attempt to propose a resolution at this time, nor are these in any particular order:
Residents would like more input into the process
- This is an entirely discretionary project that should result in a better situation for many stakeholders. At the last town hall held about this project in 2016, according to people who attended, feedback on the concept plan was not positive. The city has not provided notes from that meeting. There have been no other opportunities to develop a solution that would meet the needs of the many stakeholders. Let's acknowledge this and change direction to create a public process that will result in a plan that can be widely supported.
- The community and city council seem to agree that it is premature to evict any of the clubs and demolish any structures before a plan is completed and funding in place.
Public access to public land
- By definition, private-only use of the area where the clubs are is exclusive and benefits only a portion of the public. Residents have expressed a desire to have access to the waterfront areas currently used exclusively by the clubs.
- The BCYC requires single people to pay the same rate as couples. This is perceived by some as being discriminatory toward single people, and inappropriate on public land.
- Residents are concerned that the changes may increase car and boat traffic in a residential area.
- The clubs added their gates and fencing after experiencing theft. If the area is opened to greater public access, there must be a plan to secure boats and equipment stored in these areas.
Benefits of the clubs to Gulfport
Property improvements and maintenance
- The BCYC at its expense built the south basin with boat slips that now have been turned over to the marina to lease.
- BCYC completed improvements to its building and patio area at a cost of approximately $120,000.
- The Lions Club built and owns their building at no cost to the city.
- All clubs maintain their own facilities and pay rent to the city.
- The clubs sponsor trash clean-ups, charity drives, the holiday boat parade, and other events that benefit the Gulfport community.
- Sailing lessons are available at BCYC.
- Sea Scouts are sponsored by BCYC.
- Each club benefits from the members' shared responsibility of maintaining its own facility.
- The clubs are more affordable than yacht clubs in many areas, making them accessible to people of moderate incomes.
Effect on the clubs
- The process has created an unfortunate rift between at least some of the clubs and the city. Where there are valid concerns on both sides they should be addressed.
- Yacht clubs need access to boats and water. The concept plan distances them from water they can use—the slips near the proposed buildings are rented and can't be used to launch small sailboats.
- What are the clubs' needs? There has been no documentation of this provided by the city from any discussions with the clubs. Officials from the Lions Club and the Gulfport Yacht Club said that the city had not contacted them about moving forward on the 2016 concept plan.
Goals of the marina expansion proposal are unclear
- What are we trying to accomplish? What are the driving needs?
- Residents at previous meetings expressed an interest in new restrooms for the south side of the marina.
- Residents also rated the top priority to keep the clubs. (It is not clear whether this meant in the same buildings or not.)
- Residents expressed a need for more boat trailer parking. On busy weekends trailers now must park on the Clam Bayou side of the marina.
Concept plan building spaces and use
- The proposed building looks very large on the plans. What are the expected uses? Will it contain a restaurant or bar that could bring traffic or noise?
- If the building is to be used primarily by the clubs, is the cost of demolishing their current homes and building a new building the best solution to provide public access? This seems like spending a great deal of public money on the clubs for something they do not seem to want.
- The view across the marina would be obstructed by this new large building that must have its first floor one story above sea level. (We would like to know the exact elevation requirement.) This could be unattractive.
- The social spaces at the clubs currently are near the water. The new building would be adjacent to the north basin and would be elevated. It would not provide the type of social space for cookouts and other social events enjoyed by the clubs in their current locations.
- A model of the building was presented in 2016. Residents would like to see this again.
- Cost to purchase the Lions Club building that they own.
- Cost to demolish buildings.
- Cost to construct the new building.
- Cost to maintain and staff the new building.
- Lack of certainty whether the Breakwater Park funding will be awarded by the state. (We should know this in July.)
Irreversible loss of ground-level buildings near the water
- The current club buildings are grandfathered in. FEMA rules would not allow the city to rebuild at this elevation if they were destroyed. These buildings offer amenities near the water that would be irreversibly lost if they are destroyed.
- Loss of "old Florida" character.
- Regardless of its use, does the BCYC building have historical significance?
- Breakwater park's potential impact on nesting birds.
- Impact on the mangroves.
- Impact of boardwalk along the shoreline.
- Impact of the new construction on rainwater flooding in the neighborhood.
Alternate uses of funds
- If federal funding to Gulfport gives us the opportunity to invest in new infrastructure, what are the community's priorities? Is the marina project at the top of the list, or is the senior center or another need more important?
Suggested Next Steps
- Work with the city council and city, not against them. Keep them informed of our activities.
- Invite Gulfport residents to sign up for information and to offer input into the future of the marina.
- Create one place online where people can find all of the background information on the Marina Concept Plan and the future refinement of this.
- Write a letter to the city signed by as many residents as possible requesting that we begin a public participation process that would include the following:
- Work with the community to flesh out the list of questions and issues we started above.
- Identify the values and goals that should guide any future marina improvements to help frame discussions and to guide plan development.
- Using the IAP2 spectrum of public participation, determine the appropriate and desired level of public participation for this project.
- Identify facilitators trained in public participation who could lead in-person and online sessions to help the community and city reach a shared vision for the future of the Marina. Funding from BCYC rent can cover this expense since the city was expecting not to have this rent.
- Develop several alternatives that reflect the values and meet the goals of the project.
- Create complete financial projections for the options, including construction, maintenance, utilities, and staffing.
- Select the option that best addresses the values and goals at a cost that residents and the city believe is reasonable.
- Seek feedback from residents about their priorities for the city and determine where the marina project falls relative to other options, such as a new senior center.
- Outreach efforts will be broad, including but not limited to:
- Door-to-door canvassing
- One-on-one outreach