Gulfport opened eight new floating boat docks behind the Casino Friday, September 4. The docks are among several upcoming capital improvement projects aimed at enhancing Boca Ciega Bay’s water quality and promoting visits by boaters, bicyclists and others to the city’s waterfront and downtown areas.
Five existing fixed docks were removed and replaced with the eight floating berths, which go up and down with the tide and are more convenient for boaters, said Gulfport’s long-time marina operations director Denis Frain. The slips were built at a cost of $162,000, 75% of which came from a grant and 25% from city coffers.
“We’re really excited about opening them up to benefit our downtown merchants,” Frain said, noting that an average of 70 day-trippers a week currently tie up at the courtesy docks to visit Gulfport. “We expect these numbers to increase two-fold for occupancy.”
The docks are available free of charge on a “first-come-first-serve” basis for a maximum stay of 8 hours between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. They are designed for boats 17 feet and longer.
Construction of the new floating docks goes hand in hand with plans to renovate of the marina headquarters at 4630 29th Ave S. and build a whole new facility to house the harbormaster’s office and provide services to boaters. Other high-visibility projects coming online include a new bike path and landscaping along Shore Boulevard, and two stormwater holding ponds by the marina designed to reduce contamination of the bay.
In October or early November bids will go out to convert the 900-sq-ft building that currently houses all of Gulfport’s marina operations into a retail outlet and to build a brand new 2,400-sq-ft building to provide services to overnight marina guests and live-aboards. This will be the second round of bidding on the project: Last year it was put out to bid, but the proposals came in too high and city officials were forced to “value-engineer” the plan to trim costs, Frain said.
“We feel confident it will come in within our budget in the next go-around,” he said. The project will take eight to twelve months to complete, he said.
The new Key West-style structure will be built west of the existing marina office; it will face the bay and be built on stilts to avoid storm surges, Frain said. It will include a dayroom/lounge, television, wireless Internet, laundry facilities, restrooms, elevator and the harbormaster’s office. The space under the building will likely be used for picnic tables and a waiting area for boat tours provided by businesses based at the marina.
The improvements should help occupancy at the Gulfport Marina return to the 100 percent levels seen before the last economic downturn, Frain said. He estimated that in 2013 the Gulfport Marina generated $1.7 million in gross revenue for the municipality, about $550,000 of which was reinvested in the marina.
“The marina is one of the top revenue producers in the city of Gulfport, besides property taxes and water and sewer,” he said.
Next on the city’s wish list for the seven acres it owns by Clam Bayou? Maybe a hotel or restaurant, landscaping, parking lot paving and additional dry storage, Frain said.
Stormwater retention ponds
Construction is expected to start early next year on two new stormwater retention ponds to treat water that now flows untreated into Boca Ciega Bay from the 49th Street catchment area. The ponds will be built on two vacant city-owned lots just west of the marina and will look like similar stormwater treatment ponds at Wood Ibis and Tomlinson Lake parks, according to Public Works Director Don Sopak. They will have sloping sides planted with nutrient-eating vegetation and a fence to keep anyone from falling in.
Stormwater from a 244-acre commercial and residential area currently flows down 49th Street and dumps directly into Boca Ciega Bay carrying leaves, cigarette butts, dog waste, fast food wrappers, chemicals, fertilizers, dust, dirt and such.
Under the plan, the initial flush – the water that pushes most of the waste through the system when it starts to rain – will be diverted into new pipes built across 27th Avenue, down Upton Street and across 29th Avenue into the ponds. The ponds, along with two baffle boxes placed along the way, are expected to remove some 7,515 pounds of pollutants a year from the water before it is released into the municipal marina boat basin. More settling and dilution will take place in the basin before the water makes its way into Boca Ciega Bay. The less contaminated stormwater will continue to flow into the bay at the bottom of 49th Street.
The baffle boxes – underground structures with a series of chambers, screens, skimmers and filters that remove waste ranging from trash to microscopic contaminants – will be installed at the intersections of 27th Avenue and 48th Street and 49th Street S. and 29th Avenue. A vacuum truck periodically will clean the sediments and trash out of the baffles.
“It requires us to do a lot of maintenance but it’s well worth it when we’re removing pollutants from the system,” Sopak said.
The project has been in the works since 2008, Sopak said. It will be completed by July 2017 at a total cost of about $1.78 million. The Florida Legislature allocated $500,000 for the project, the Southwest Florida Water Management District is providing $640,290 by means of a grant, and Gulfport is paying $640,290 – half of it from the 2015-16 budget and half from 2016-17.
Shore Boulevard beautification and trails
The city’s premiere boulevard is scheduled for a facelift that includes a new 10-ft-wide bike and pedestrian path on the bay side of the parking lot and a landscaped knee-wall by the existing sidewalk. Also, the parking lot will be repaved, the pot holes removed and the parking spaces redefined.
Phase 1 of the two-part project will get underway early next year, tackling the stretch from 58th Street to the Gulfport Casino, said Gulfport Community Development Director Fred Metcalf. Phase 1 will cost $600,000 – half from a Community Development Block Grant and half from the 2015-16 budget recently approved by the city council. It is expected to be completed by October 1, 2016.
Phase 2 will address the stretch from the Casino to Williams Pier at 54th Street, converting the existing sidewalk to a bike and pedestrian path at a similar cost.
The waterfront bike path is part of a planned 3.4-mile system of trails around the city that aims to connect downtown Gulfport to the Pinellas Trail to the north and the Skyway Trail to the east. The trail will incorporate existing streets, paths and trails, Metcalf said. Cyclists are already using a number of sections of what will eventually become the formal trail, he said.
“It’s a matter of directing traffic to our waterfront area,” he said.
The immediate focus will be on the Osgood Point Trail Connector – a 1-mile section linking the Gulfport Marina to the Sunshine Skyway trail just west of Twin Brooks Golf Course in St. Petersburg. A public meeting on the connector trail is scheduled Monday, September 14 at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.