Riviera Beach residents called on to determine waterfront's fate
Yacht company's revitalization plan met with doubts
| South Florida
- October 20, 2007
RIVIERA BEACH - In Mike Clark's
vision, the Riviera Beach Marina is thriving, transformed from an
infrastructure-challenged relic to a flourishing, state-of-the-art
marina with water in every fire hydrant, a boat in every slip and
people, lots of people.
Visitors would come to shop, walk along the promenade to neighboring
Bicentennial Park — no longer a haven for the illicit — and hear music
at the amphitheater before dining at one of the Tiki-themed eateries.
Harbor Village would be a regional destination, said Clark, president of
Viking Associates, the developing arm of the yacht maker, which wants a
long-term contract to run the city's marina.
| IF YOU GO Riviera Beach
Kickoff Design Workshop: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at
600 West Blue Heron Blvd.
Design Studio: Sunday through Thursday, 9
a.m. to 10 p.m..
Riviera Beach Utilities Conference Room, City Hall complex
Work In Progress Presentation: Friday, 7 p.m.
"The way we have to approach this
is the way Riviera Beach lost control of its city, and that is a block
at a time," Clark said. "Take two assets that are completely
underutilized, the marina and Bicentennial Park, revitalize them and
they become the focal point of a new community."
As Riviera Beach today launches a weeklong series of meetings, bringing
residents into the redevelopment planning process for the first time,
hope for the city's future will be on the drawing board. A key question
for participants will be how to revive what should be the city's
proudest asset: its 150-slip marina.
Officials have a lot to tackle in the meeting. The city is in the grips
of crime, economic hardship and decay, it has long been traumatized by
the divisive politics that accompanied fruitless redevelopment efforts
and is further tainted by a federal investigation into the spending of
redevelopment millions. Taking the lead is an overhauled City Council
installed in an upset election in March.
"Our aim has been, since we got into office, to open up this process and
get input," said new City Council Chairwoman Shelby Lowe. "We came in
talking referendum, supporting open government, the democratic process.
What I find deflating are the recent naysayers who talk against the
plan, who assume we would do anything contrary to being open and fair."
Viking, which presented the Harbor Village proposal last week, says that
given a long-term lease, it would invest tens of millions of dollars to
turn the waterfront around.
Among other things, it would address the aging infrastructure: a
substandard electrical system and fuel lines, crumbling bulkheads and
the floor of the dry stack that's so uneven that the forklifts can't put
large boats on the top stack anymore.
Without a long-term lease, Viking has threatened to abandon its
considerable investment in the city. But those who enjoy the casual
atmosphere and reasonable prices at the marina see Viking's plan as a
gentrification enterprise that will earn the developer profits by
pushing out low-income tenants in favor of an upscale facility.
"The concern is they will come in and raise the rent so high that ...
people will leave and they will have a marina where they can do what
they want," said Andrew Foss, one of several dozen "live-aboards" who
live on their boats moored at the marina. "Everyone wants to see the
marina fixed up. So get on, Viking, happy days. But not at the cost of
the people who live at the marina."
The meeting is the culmination of years of redevelopment struggle. Two
years ago, following up on its 2001 master plan to redevelop 400 acres
of waterfront property, the city named two master developers: Catalfumo
Construction for the Ocean Mall on Singer Island and Viking for the much
larger redevelopment area along the Intracoastal Waterway that included
the marina and Bicentennial Park.
The New Jersey-based Viking group had already built a headquarters on
the waterfront and was buying up property along the redevelopment area.
But when the Legislature outlawed eminent domain for redevelopment last
year, the city lost its main tool for acquiring properties slated for
redevelopment. Viking had to scale down the project.
Catalfumo, meanwhile, presented an Ocean Mall plan with a 28-story tower
and a 99-year lease on the beachfront property. Singer Island residents
objected, leading to a court fight, a referendum and an electoral upset
when their candidates beat out the mayor and three City Council
"Input is very important, especially in this city," said Dawn Pardo, a
member of the steering committee and a leader of the group that sued for
the Ocean Mall referendum. "In this city, residents feel that over the
past nine years, government put together a plan without bringing people
on board. The new government is doing everything it can to make the
public feel part of the process."
During the campaign, Pardo complained that then-Mayor Michael Brown
wanted to raze the city and build yacht clubs and condominiums. Those
who live at the marina now worry that Viking has similar ambitions
there. They cite a recent policy shift by interim director Douglas Mason
imposing stricter insurance rules that pushed out some of the marina's
Smaller, older boats, like Foss', are being turned down by the insurance
companies, Foss said. The marina now has empty slips where it once had a
"You'd never have seen this five years ago," said George Carter, the
longtime former marina director who now runs Viking's Maritime School.
Carter blames the high insurance requirement but also the economy and
the marina's failing infrastructure.
"Is this their master plan, to just stall until they can legally kick
them out?" Foss asked.
Company president Clark dismissed as preposterous any conspiracy theory
involving Viking. He defended Mason's efforts to require high insurance,
saying boats should be seaworthy and well-covered so the marina does not
"Painting a picture of the big guy developer Viking coming in to kick
out the little guy who is ensconced and comfortable in the marina is
patently false," Clark said. "The bottom line is, the city is
subsidizing people who don't live in Riviera Beach so they can have
their boats on the water," he added. "I think part and parcel of
upgrading the marina means upgrading the tenants.... The marina has
become the no-tell motel of the yachting industry."
Dianna Cahn can be reached at
email@example.com or 561-228-5501.