When Ismael “Issy” Perera’s marine business on the New River in Ft. Lauderdale was asked to leave this summer to make room for condos, he could have closed down. Instead he picked up Apex Marine’s operations and moved down to the Miami River.
It turned out to be a great move.
“We have land no one else has,” he said, noting the five acres he’s leased on the South Fork Canal where the facility can now handle boats up to 130 feet. “Plus, this is different than the New River because this is a working river.”
After years of economic upswings and down times, Perera joins a resurgence of new and growing marine facilities in the Miami area.
“We have two new facilities being built in Miami,” Mayor Tomás Regalado said of projects on Watson Island and the Miami River. “We are very excited because finally the megayacht industry is coming in a grand way.”
Watson Island will soon be home to Deep Harbour, a megayacht facility at Island Gardens, a hotel, retail and marina development. And SeaVault is in the final stages of approval to be a marina with crew living quarters on the Miami River.
“These will help meet yachts’ needs,” Regalado said by phone in early September. “It makes sense because Miami has a brand that people have come to love, whether for business, vacation or as a gateway.”
Deep Harbour is under way after more than a decade of uncertainty. The city first approved the project in 2004, but the economy, resident objections and financial hurdles stalled the project until last year.
When finished, it will have 5,000 linear feet of dockage for an average of 50 yachts up to 550 feet. The marina will be dredged to a depth of 18-21 feet, said Bahar Bayraktar, vice president of marketing and communications for the project.
“We have finalized the marina construction from early mitigation work and seawall completion to completing dredging to 21 feet and installing the coral reefs underwater where the piers are allocated,” she said.
The “coral reefs” are structures constructed to foster marine life under the piers. The final step includes Technomarine Group’s installation of the piers, and the floating docks will be assembled on site, she said.
SeaVault will be built on the spot formerly known as Florida Yacht Basin. The redesign includes 14 covered slips and crew accommodations, according to Homero Meruelo, manager of SeaVault.
“This is a one-of-a-kind project for several reasons,” he said. “It is an all-in-one with the enclosed slips and the land can be used for crew quarters, office, storage or whatever the yacht needs.”
SeaVault also offers ownership.
“We can convey deed of title,” he said. “We own the bottom and have the ability to offer a deeded bottom, which allows for financing.”
Meruelo said he came up with the idea when he visited facilities in Ft. Lauderdale.
“I saw the Marina Boathouse with the enclosed space and thought, ‘Why don’t we give them water access with a commercial unit?’,” Meruelo said.
But the plan does come at the expense of more dockage on the river. Recently listed as Brisas del Rio Marina, the area is licensed for 45 total slips.
Beyond the new development, existing marinas and yards have noticed an uptick of interest and investment.
“We’re now working with a waiting list,” Miami Beach Marina General Manager Marieke VanPeer said. “I’ve been here 10 years, but we haven’t seen this since before the crash when the bottom dropped and we saw people sneaking out, collections agents and repos.
“It’s taken awhile, but now we’re back up to a good market and getting stronger every year,” she said.
RMK Merrill-Stevens on the Miami River is also on its way up, CEO Mike Frank said.
“The north yard is in the process of reorganization and we are replacing the 75-year-old small elevator lift to be able to lift vessels up to 230 feet,” he said. “We have a new reception area and have upgraded the other office areas. We have plans for the future to lift this yard into people’s vision, but we are doing this gradually with more skilled staff and subcontractors.”
Jones Boat Yard has weathered economic fluctuations since its start on the Miami River in 1917, but has also seen renewed interest of late.
“Miami has been complacent, but more and more yachts want refits and want to be in the Miami area,” Vice President Cliff DeFreitas said during a tour of the yard’s upgraded crew facilities, including a full galley, gym, a pool table and other entertainment amenities.
Jones has dry dock capabilities for vessels up to 300 feet as well as 3,700 linear feet of dockage and covered slips for 11 yachts more than 200 feet in length.
Another resource for megayachts up to 500 feet is the dockage known as Museum Marina or the FEC slip, the seawall adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena. Designed to host tall ships and other water-dependent events, it is managed by Miami’s Bayfront Park Management Trust. Although it offers no power, water or other services, it does have space and depth
“All of Miami is seeing a resurgence and this is filtering into the marine industry,” said Horacio Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission who was appointed by Florida’s previous governor to oversee all things on the river.
“The marine industry is seeing exciting times, much different from the 1980s and 90s,” he said. “The quality of the professionals in Miami has greatly improved in the last 10 to 15 years in the marine market.”
Although Miami is popular, there is still room for improvement. Capt. Bernie Altmeier, who runs several vessels up to 90 feet between the U.S. East Coast, Bahamas and Florida Keys, said that while younger crew love Miami, it can be challenging to get work done.
“It can be hard to get workers to come to the boat becauses of things like traffic and parking,” Capt. Altmeier said. “I have an air conditioning contractor who lives in the South Miami area who told me, ‘If I come out to work on your boat, I’m going to have to charge you for a whole day because I can’t schedule another customer’.”
The owner he works for wanted one of his boats in Miami, so he set out to find it a parking spot.
“It’s not quite that easy,” he said. “Docks are smaller and older, and slips for larger yachts were too tight, plus there are few slips available. The owner ended up buying a slip just to have a place to park.”
Consider those issues growing pains that Miami hopes to outgrow.
“Miami is international and built on different cultures,” the Miami River Commission’s Aguirre said. “And a tremendous number of yacht customers are foreign. When Cuba opens, the megayacht market here will skyrocket.”
Island Gardens’ plans to meet those needs.
“We aim to draw new yachting clientele, including owners from Europe looking to dock their superyachts in Miami, those who may not have considered Miami before,” Island Gardens’ Bayraktar said.
And some sectors can’t wait.
“We’re really excited about Island Gardens,” said Capt. Debora Radtke, a partner with American Yacht Agents doing shoreside support for visiting yachts. “We’re going to find more foreign-owned, not just foreign-flagged vessels, that want to be in Miami.”
Whether its for large yacht dockage or mid-range yacht service, many of Miami’s marine facilities fill specific needs, which makes it easy for them all to work together, said David Smyth, marina manager at Epic Marina at the mouth of the Miami River.
“There are so many yachts now, but we have a special niche,” Smyth said from the edge of the 900-foot wall hosting two yachts more than 150 feet. Epic is one of the only places to dock yachts more than 300 feet without bridges.
“And we’re unique as an in-the-city marina,” he said. “It will be nice to have the Watson Island facility. I thought it would be tough, but it’s the opposite because they help in a jam. We all work together.”
VanPeer, who will step down as Miami Beach Marina’s general manager this month, agreed.
“There are plenty of boats here,” she said. “We work closely with the others. If we can’t take them, we pass them on. There is no cutthroat industry feel. The opening of Island Gardens has no impact on our business; it’s apples and pears. They’ll have Med mooring and some don’t want to do that.
“Everyone has the feeling that Miami’s growing, relationships are solid and we do a lot of sharing,” she said.
RMK Merrill-Stevens’ Frank also agreed.
“The marine industry is a very big cake with enough pieces for everyone,” Frank said. “The beauty of the Watson Island project is it will bring big boats, and from Watson Island they can come here, we can service them. We will work together.
“I know some yachts don’t want to go to Ft. Lauderdale so we’re giving them a choice,” he said. “We’re reaching out to builders for warranty work, and we get the European market. We are not stealing from Ft. Lauderdale. We give people the choice.”
It’s not us-or-them in South Florida’s marine industry. It’s just a swing of the tide. And it might be Miami’s turn.
“A degree of people are apprehensive in Ft. Lauderdale with the All Aboard Florida train and the purchase of Lauderdale Marine Center,” Apex Marine’s Perera said. “Captains are saying they need to start checking things out. We will position ourselves to fill the niche.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.