For nearly a decade, yacht captains and crew have read about one boating company’s big plans for the area north of the Port of Palm Beach, a place where the world’s largest yachts will someday be able to come for service and dockage.
And although contracts have been signed and equipment is starting to move, some changes are still a long way away.
In the meantime, another boating company has quietly pieced together property, opened service facilities, built a school and partnered with the government to take a huge step toward that “someday.”
This is the story of two boat companies working to change the face of Riviera Beach, a sleepy and troubled city north of West Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast, about 60 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. Property owned by Rybovich and Viking Yachts — and deep-water access to them — is key to giving South Florida’s yachting industry what it needs: some growing room.
Rybovich first announced plans to change back in 2006. The current Rybovich facility in West Palm Beach is the one many captains already know: 52 wet slips for yachts up to 120m in length, seven dry slips for up to 59m, a dry dock and trade shops. Crew know the cafe, pool and clubhouse near the docks.
But Rybovich also owns property in Riviera Beach that is more than three times the size of the West Palm Beach operation, according to Carlos Vidueira, vice president of Rybovich. The company’s shipyard facilities eventually will relocate there leaving room for condominiums, restaurant and retail space on the West Palm Beach property. The marina will remain available to megayachts.
“The current shipyard operations in West Palm Beach will remain open and at maximum capacity until such time as they are relocated to the new Riviera Beach facility,” Vidueira said by e-mail. “Some yacht support services will remain in duplicate in West Palm Beach.”
Also in Riviera Beach, Viking Yachts has built two service centers, a tuna tower fabricator and the Riviera Beach Maritime Academy.
“These companies service Viking yachts and can also do work for other fine boat builders,” said Kim Lukich, who manages Florida human resources for Viking Yacht staff. “The destination will bring us more business and allow us to expand as a facility, build more and hire crew at more jobs. I’m excited.”
Perhaps more importantly, Viking Yacht’s real estate division, Viking Developers, has acquired about 13 acres in the area, which is about 50 percent of the city’s revitalization project. Viking was named a private industry partner in the $375 million project. Ground was broken a year ago.
The Riviera Beach Marina District is scheduled to include extended stay corporate housing for captains, crew and other visitors; marine trades-focused office space, residential high-rise tower, a ship’s store, captains lounge, dive shop, bait and tackle, and an international public market, said Tyler Alten, vice president of Viking Developers.
The first phase of the revitalization is under way now and includes a waterfront restaurant row, a new events center, a public promenade and beach, and underground utilities infrastructure.
“Today, all the boats have electronics and captains,” said Bob Healey Sr., founder of the company and now chairman. But the surrounding area from which to draw labor is poor, not giving nearby kids much access to yachtings good jobs.
“The answer to poverty is economics, and education and training,” he said. “If you can do that, you have accomplished a mission.”
The non-profit Riviera Beach Maritime Academy has 200 high-school aged students learning practical and technical skills, and Viking is making plans to build a second school to reach 600 more students and trainers.
To give boats access to these changes in Riviera Beach, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the dredging of 3,555 linear feet of the Intracoastal Waterway north of the deepwater basin of the Port of Palm Beach to just south of the Blue Heron Boulevard Bridge. The Florida Inland Navigation District has been contracted to a width of 125 feet and depth of 15 feet at mean low tide. The project has been permitted and should be started by the end of the year.
“Dredging from the port is very positive as our yacht line is getting longer and Rybovich will be able to develop their business; it will help both of us,” Viking’s Alten said. “During the process, private operators will have the chance to contract out to dredge into their businesses.
“We are making a maritime hub for megayachts and all size of boats,” he said. “In five years, this area will be completely reinvigorated.”