Barrie seeks public-private partnership to expand and possibly operate city’s marina

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By Robin MacLennan

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Barrie is looking for a public-private partnership to expand – and, potentially, operate the city’s marina.

At a meeting in December, councillors directed staff  to investigate options and “have an open mind” for possibilities that stop short of selling the waterfront land.

“If a developer wanted to invest in our city, expand on the marina, but also take over (operation of) the existing marina, I’d be open to that proposal,” said Councillor Mike McCann.

A report on the future of the waterfront property was presented to council last January.

The city has operated the marina since 1971, providing seasonal marina services to city residents and transient slips with small and mid-sized boats. On average the City marina fees are 20 to 40 per cent lower than other local marinas.

The marina offers the basic services essential to the boating community including a gas dock, waste pump-out, boat launch, potable water supply, shore power and minimal restroom/shower facilities. Marina staff also provide assistance launching and docking to maximize ramp throughput by minimizing the amount of time each boater needs for this purpose.

An expression of interest was issued in 2013, but there were no takers.

At the time, staff noted selling the facility could increase rates for users and would also take valuable waterfront space out of public hands. And no proposals to lease the facility came forward when the city issued an expression of interest in 2013

“(The) primary interest here is in exploring the potential (for) a private operator,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “I’m not sure we need to be in the marina business. It was a bit of a legacy that we’re in the marina business. The municipality doesn’t need to be providing boat slips to people. This is something the private sector handles everywhere else on Lake (Simcoe).”

Users have made it clear that they don’t support fee increases and, according to a staff report, “expanding the marina’s physical infrastructure and service offerings beyond those currently offered requires access to capital in order to finance improvements”

Also, a report from N. Barry Lyon Consulting after a review of pros and cons of private ownership, concluded that “in general, while a sale or lease of the marina offers the potential to discharge liabilities and provide a revenue source, these must be balanced against a range of largely non-financial impacts that are difficult to quantify, but potentially significant to the City of Barrie.”

Several Ontario municipalities including Mississauga, Toronto, Toronto Port Authority, Whitby, Oakville, and Kingston have chosen not to lease their marinas to private parties over the past several years, fearing “losing control of the waterfront and limiting reinvestment due to profit taking.”

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