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Friday, January 13, 2006

City Marina takes annual award
Service, fringe benefits for customers earn facility top honors in industry

By Kyle Stock
The Post and Courier


Charleston City Marina has been named the top facility of its kind by a national trade magazine.

Marina Dock Age Magazine, a trade publication that goes to some 17,200 individuals and businesses, named the Charleston dock "Marina of the Year" in its upcoming March issue. The City Marina was selected over about 40 other applicants.

"It means that we hold it as an example of what other marinas should try to be doing," said Janice Gordon, publisher of Marina Dock Age.

The Illinois-based magazine considers a variety of criteria in crowning a winner, including growth, charitable giving, customer satisfaction and environmental sensitivity. Its editors gave the Lockwood Drive facility credit for rebuilding after Hurricane Hugo and adding a 1,530-foot "megadock" in 2003 for super-sized yachts. However, Gordon said, service is the big factor, and the Charleston dock scored points by offering boating clients cable TV, golf carts, a courtesy van and showers.

Robbie Freeman, managing partner of the marina, said he was particularly pleased with the award because it was the first year his staff applied for it.

"I think it will certainly help put Charleston on the map in having first-class facilities and also having facilities that can accommodate yachts of all sizes," Freeman said.

In 1994, the city leased the facility to the City Marina Co., a unit of the Beach Co. Freeman said the operation's revenue picked up quickly, but it did not turn a profit for six or seven years, because Beach was pouring money into upgrades - about $12 million to date.

Today, however, business is good and the marina supports some 30 ancillary businesses, including a liquor store and seven yacht brokers. About 200 people work at or around the city docks.

And there are no signs of the market cooling off. Freeman said the Charleston dock market is quickly getting competitive for boaters seeking marina slips.

"It's not like we have a waiting list, but at the rate the industry is growing I can see Charleston being very tight for slips in the not-so-distant future," he said. "We think long term it's going to be very profitable for us."

The City Marina has 400 slips, two-thirds of which rent for $10 per foot of boat per month. The owner of a 28-foot sailboat, for example, would shell out $3,360 a year to dock there. The remaining 133 slips rent nightly for $1.80 per foot of vessel. Freeman said the prices are relatively high for Charleston but affordable compared with other East Coast boat docks. He noted that a number of Florida boaters store their boats here in the winter to save money.

There are almost 12,000 marinas in the United States, according to the Marina Operators Association of America.


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