Riviera Beach to host mega yachts?

RIVIERA BEACH Last September, Viking Developers submitted a $500 million plan to transform Riviera Beach Municipal Marina into International Harbor at Riviera Beach - a bold makeover featuring a Key West-style Harbor Village with shops and restaurants, a hotel, offices, a parking garage and a public market.

After nearly a year of discussion with the city in a wobbly economy, Viking has scaled back its plans. But the yacht company, with a real estate division and a service facility just north of the marina, still wants to work with the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency on a marina overhaul.

 
Boating program proposed for new waterfront park

Work on Bicentennial Park, the waterfront park immediately north of the marina, has begun.

The city council in June approved $160,490 in contracts for irrigation, site grading and landscaping of the park. Installation of trees and shrubs is scheduled to begin today and will be followed by construction of a beach volleyball court and a playground.

Councilman Shelby Lowe wants to invite the nonprofit Shake-A-Leg Miami to develop a community boating program there, too.

Shake-A-Leg founder Harry Horgan has proposed a community boating program similar to the organization's program in Miami, where volunteers help the disabled and others learn to sail, paddle kayaks and enjoy other types of boating.

"If kids grow up boating, they're more likely to get a job in the marine industry," Lowe said, noting that public access must be maintained as a key feature of the marina redevelopment.

"If we don't get it right, we'll have a black community that doesn't know anything about the waterfront," Lowe said.

 
 

At the same time, officials from Rybovich, which handles yachts up to 300 feet at its waterfront facility in West Palm Beach, have met with city council members to discuss establishing a megayacht service yard in Riviera Beach.

"Although Rybovich does not currently have a specific recommendation for the marina site, Rybovich has agreed to contribute its knowledge and expertise of the megayacht industry to the city in an attempt to identify opportunities that may exist for economic development," company spokesman Mario Byrne said.

With the economy lagging, a phased approach to marina redevelopment makes sense, said Mike Clark, vice president of Viking Developers.

"Let's focus on what can be accomplished," Clark said. "All we want to do is make it a nicer place to be. It needs to put Riviera Beach on the map as a place where people want to come, not avoid."

Viking has invested $52 million in Riviera Beach since the New Gretna, N.J.-based yacht company established a service facility at the east end of 16th Street in 2002, Clark said. Revamping the marina would be good for Viking customers who bring their boats to Riviera Beach for service - and for the value of property that Viking owns along Broadway.

"We both have to move forward for either of us to benefit," Clark said. "That's the advantage of dealing with us. We've got skin in the game."

The marina redevelopment plan has gained little ground in 11 months.

On July 22, the last time the marina redevelopment came before the city council, CRA Director Floyd Johnson recommended terminating city negotiations with Viking. The council, sitting as the CRA board, fired Johnson that night.

Viking's revised plan starts small and phases in more development as the economy improves. Its first phase calls for the city to rebuild the marina slips and bulkhead, rebuild Newcomb Hall in a new location and revamp Bicentennial Park.

The city and the CRA also would pay for water, sewer, electric and other site work. Riviera Beach's total investment would be about $30 million, including $5 million from a Palm Beach County waterfront access bond.

Viking would invest about $13 million to build a three-story marina village building and other retail space on land leased from the city. The marina village building would provide space for shops and three restaurants.

Clark envisions moving the Tiki Waterfront Sea Grill into the village building and leasing the other two spaces for a white-tablecloth restaurant and possibly a blues and barbecue place.

In Viking's reduced plan, the central section of the marina, originally slated for a parking garage and a hotel, would become surface parking. More ground-level parking would be added on the west side of Avenue C.

As part of the redevelopment deal, Viking is proposing several land swaps with the city. The developer wants the Spanish Courts Motel property, for example, and has offered to give the city the Yachtsman Motel site at the marina and a 3.6-acre site for a public market on the southwest corner of 13th Street and Broadway.

Viking has proposed swapping several other smaller parcels with the city. Details would have to be worked out based on appraisals if the city agrees.

Viking will remain flexible with the marina plan and will involve other players along the city's waterfront as needed, including Rybovich, Lockheed Martin and Cracker Boy Boat Works, Clark said.

"We'll make the adjustments we need to accommodate the city and the other stakeholders," Clark said. "A comprehensive plan will come out of this, and I'm hoping it will be sooner than later."