St. Pete Council rejects mayor’s 25-year lease pitch for municipal marina

ST. PETERSBURG — In a last-ditch effort to come to a resolution on renovating the municipal marina, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s staff unsuccessfully tried to get approval for a long-term lease and push the issue before voters in a referendum on the November ballot.

City Council unanimously voted down a motion to hold a public hearing on the marina this Thursday — the deadline to place a referendum on the ballot. Instead, they voted unanimously for council to discuss the issue in committee in September.

If approved by voters, the city would’ve granted a 25-year lease to Tennessee-based Safe Harbor Development with renovation costs of around $30 million. Staff has said it would cost $50 million for the city to handle the job, though it’s unclear why there would be a $20 million savings by using a private developer.

City Hall pitched that a 25-year lease eliminates the need for a future referendum, removing uncertainty for the developer and eliminating the termination fee from the lease. Administration hoped it could go before a public hearing at Thursday’s council meeting, but it failed unanimously to get a second motion.

On his public Facebook page, Kriseman wrote about the 25-year marina lease and posted council members’ contact information to lobby the public.

“We have a chance to renovate one of our marinas, retain public ownership, and relieve our taxpayers. We just need a chance to vote on it,” the Aug. 3 post read.

Council member Brandi Gabbard asked if the city has ever entered into a 25-year lease with a vendor with no prior relationship with the city.

“To do that now without that track record, I think frankly is very irresponsible of us,” Gabbard said.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said she was not aware of that precedent. She said the marina issue is a question best asked of voters, and that a long-term lease is a better option than a five-year period.

“To be very clear, administration still supports a five-year agreement with Safe Harbor to operate the marina and redevelop it as described in conversations with council,” Tomalin said.

It takes a supermajority — six out of eight council votes — to approve a lease on the waterfront. A referendum would need only a simple majority, or five out of eight votes. And any lease longer than five years on the waterfront triggers a referendum.

Some council members said the communication and clarity was lacking between the mayor’s staff and the community. Marina residents who spoke during public comment were against the referendum and against any sort of lease with a landlocked private firm.

Council chair Ed Montanari said the mayor’s latest proposal was worse than the previous option. He said the issue should be under the purview of the next mayor.

“My concerns on what I have before us, I just can’t support this at this time,” Montanari said.

Tomalin pushed back, asking why the marina issue — and not the budget, utility rates or the expansion of the Dali Museum, next on the agenda — must be tabled until a new administration.

The council did vote to set a public hearing Thursday regarding the Dali Museum, which wants to expand, though its neighbor, the Mahaffey Theater, isn’t happy about it.

A compromise plan presented to council, known as “Plan C,” does not provide the Dali with adequate parking or parking revenue, said Kathy Greif, the Dali’s chief operating officer.

Via video conference, Executive Director Hank Hine said the Dali will withdraw its proposal if Big3 Entertainment and the St. Petersburg Grand Prix are not in agreement.