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Real Estate - Commercial

Marinas Respond To High Demand

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 16, 2017
In response to demand, Southport Marina Inc. recently added a dry stack facility that can hold 100 boats. Marina officials say shortages in marina slips is one reason for the demand. (Photo c/o Southport Marina)
For boat owners in the Wilmington area, it can sometimes be hard to find marina space, in wet slips or dry stacks.

At Atlantic Marine at 101 Keel St. in Wrightsville Beach, which has 180 dry storage slots and four wet slips, about 45 boats are on a waiting list, said David Floyd, president of Atlantic Marine.

“It’s a premium area,” Floyd said of Wrightsville Beach. “Everybody wants access to Masonboro Island and Masonboro Inlet and the Wrightsville Beach lifestyle.”

The demand for boat slips at local marinas appears to be back to pre-recession levels, he said, though even in the depths of when the recession affected the boating industry, around 2008, there was never a mass exodus of boats from marina spaces.

In some cases, marina owners are expanding their facilities.

Southport Marina, 606 W. West St., in the historic Brunswick County city of the same name, added a building with 100 dry slips, officially opening the new offering at the beginning of the year.

As of early June, the dry stack facility was approaching the half-full mark, said Hank Whitley, general manager of Southport Marina.

“Specifically for us, we’re seeing a demand for the dry storage product because of the convenience factor I think,” Whitley said.

Shortages in marina slips elsewhere appear to be boosting demand in Southport, he said. But the growth of Brunswick County’s population is another factor.

“There’s a huge boom with housing in Southport right now, and the people moving in to retire are starting to boat as well,” Whitely said.

Southport Marina has the capacity with the lift in its dry storage building to lift boats in the 32- to 35- foot range, depending on the boat. The marina also has about 200 wet slips, and most are full, Whitley said.

“We’re at occupancy with a waiting list on some size slips,” he said.

“After the drop, and then the increase, I think everybody is focused on planning for the future, and a bright future,” Whitley said.

For some marinas, that means more amenities, too, including restaurants.

When Black Finn Ameripub opened in May, it became the first to begin welcoming customers of three restaurants planned at Port City Marina on the Cape Fear River in northern downtown Wilmington. Port City Marina opened in 2015 and can accommodate boats up to 200 feet.

Earlier this year, Magnolia Social Café joined Smoke on the Water as a restaurant option in the Marina Village at RiverLights, the 1,400-acre mixed-use property under construction along the Cape Fear River off River Road in Wilmington.

If restaurants aren’t in close proximity, it can make sense for marina owners and developers to include one in their plans, Floyd said.

“You want to capture that customer and make it as awesome an experience as possible, providing as many amenities and services as you can to fulfill their stay,” he said.

Like RiverLights, some communities are offering or plan to offer residents and property owners access to slips at private marinas. For example, Sawmill Point, a 280-unit apartment complex on the Cape Fear River in downtown Wilmington, has a 42-slip marina. Sawmill Point officials planned to celebrate the project’s grand opening June 13.

RiverLights could have as many as 112 wet slips, averaging 20 to 45 feet, for RiverLights property owners only and available for an annual lease, said Kace Coble, marketing manager for developer Newland Communities.

“We felt that the marina was vital for RiverLights to have,” Coble said in an email. “The community is centered around the river, so it was extremely important that we provide the most connectivity to the water to promote an active, outdoor lifestyle.”

She said RiverLights will also have public day docks so non-residents will have the ability to bring their boat up the Cape Fear River, dock their boat and visit the community’s other public amenities and the Marina Village’s restaurants and shops.

With marina space in high demand, the owners and developers of self-storage facilities have been adding or including boat storage in their plans. And while the number of slips available is increasing in certain parts of the region, marinas are also refurbishing existing offerings.

Wrightsville Beach Marina officials recently celebrated the completion of nearly $4 million in renovations, including upgrading from a wood to concrete dock system. The marina’s 100 slips are full, said dockmaster Sam Clary.

“We’ve enjoyed the economy bouncing back, and this segment of the population is doing well,” Clary said.

“As the economy in the metro areas in the state – Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro – do well, this is one of the places they like to vacation and buy homes and boats.”

Limited by the depth of the waterway, Wrightsville Beach Marina is able to accommodate boats up to about 180 feet.

In Carolina Beach, a marina and boat yard owner plans to add a dry stack facility with 53 slips. David Pierce, owner of Carolina Beach Marina & Boat Yard, is working with the town of Carolina Beach on modifying a conditional use permit for expanding marina operations, including the three-story dry stack facility, an office and a workshop.

From people searching for slips, Pierce said, “we get phone calls all the time.”

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