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Front Page » Top Stories » Businesses Salivating Over Mega Yachts On Miami River

Businesses Salivating Over Mega Yachts On Miami River

Written by on September 30, 2004

By Samantha Joseph
The ability to attract large yachts to the Miami River for service and recreation could add millions to Miami-Dade County’s economy, industry experts say.

Miami River shipyard operators say they expect their income to grow 30% to 100% once a dredging project planned for next month is completed and allows them to accommodate ships larger than 80 feet.

Servicing mega yachts, as the largest boats are called, is a multimillion-dollar industry that generates more than $181 million in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In 2002, mega yachts supported 5,200 jobs in the tri-county area, according to a study by Thomas J. Murray & Associates.

Local shipyard operators say mega yacht owners account for the bulk of the business.

But they say the dredging of the river to increase its depth would allow even larger ships to enter the channel and generate millions not only for the yards but also for supporting businesses.

The dredging is set to remove nearly 1 million tons of sediment from the river and double the river’s depth to about 15 feet.

"The difference of these few feet is the difference between getting those mega yachts into Jones Boat Yard or not," said Miami River Commission Managing Director Brett Bibeau.

The project is part of a broad plan to create a vibrant community of homeowners and investors along the Miami River.

The dredging will immediately boost trade, allowing ships to move from operating at 70% capacity to carrying full loads of cargo for the first time in decades.

"The economic benefit for Miami and South Florida would be tremendous," Mr. Bibeau said.

For shipyard operators, the dredging would mean that more luxurious ships with larger crews and more expensive needs could sail the river and enter its service areas.

The change could be timely, said Tom Murray of Thomas J. Murray & Associates, as newer yachts are increasingly larger.

The average yachter spends about $140,000 for maintenance on each visit, he said.

Mr. Bibeau said total spending reaches $400,000 for hotel stays, food and expenses as wealthy yachters and their crews await repairs.

"The typical yacht orders $22,000 in meat," said Jones Shipyard chairman

Victor Barred. "They do all their buying locally."

Mega yachts account for 95% of Jones’ business, and the company expects to double its revenue after the river’s dredging.

Jones is so confident in the industry’s potential that three months ago, it purchased an 8-acre site on Terminal Island, off MacArthur Causeway, to service mega yachts.

At Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock Co., the ships generate 70% of the company’s business and yard superintendent Walter Richardson expects income to grow 30% each year with a deeper river.

"They are the bread and butter of the marine industry of late," said Phil Everingham, vice president of Merrill-Stevens. "They are the fastest-growing part of the market, and certainly, the more of them that we can get in Miami, the better off the marine industry will be."

Organizers of a one-day symposium on business opportunities along the Miami River proved its attraction to commerce and potential to spur the local economy. Despite a hurricane watch last weekend, about 100 people attended Monday’s one-day session.

The Miami River Marine Industries Symposium had a practical focus. It brought together public officials interested in economic development, private companies considering doing business on the river and promoters who say the waterway’s potential remains largely untapped.

Discussion focused on pointing would-be investors to the proper channels for grants, tax breaks and other incentives to encourage business along the 5.5-mile river that runs from Biscayne Bay west to the Miami River.

For many, the meeting offered the first opportunity to inquire about programs and gain guidance on how to qualify and apply for incentives.

"Many people don’t even know these programs exist," said Brett Bibeau, managing director of the Miami River Commission, the clearinghouse for public policy and projects on the river. "And some have never had the forms or the information they needed to apply."

Organizers handed out information packets, application forms and detailed information on business incentives.

Participants included representatives from the Beacon Council, the county’s economic development group; the US Maritime Administration; the Marine Industries Association of South Florida; the Governor’s Office of Tourism; and the Office of Trade and Economic Development.

Their goal was to educate potential investors on the possibilities envisioned for the river that planners have divided into three development zones in an urban infill plan that seeks to balance residential, commercial and marine industry uses.

The river is Florida’s fourth-busiest port. It handles more than $4.1 billion in trade annually and has been targeted by real estate developers for residential and commercial projects that could bring thousands of homeowners around its banks.

But planners want to see more small businesses in the area, and hope to encourage entrepreneurs.Details: (305) 361-4850.