Boat slips ready, homes coming

A high-end marina at the old Ortega River Boatyard will have condominiums.

By TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS, The Times-Union


Workers were busy putting the finishing touches on the clubhouse in the Marina at Ortega Landing over the past few days, preparing for the opening of the city's newest high-end marina.

And even as that project works to attract boaters, the developers behind it have already started forging ahead on an adjacent condominium facility they hope will soon rise along the river's edge.

The 192-slip facility near Roosevelt Boulevard was built upon the site of the old Ortega River Boatyard, a wooden dock facility that developers MLG Communities bought for about $8 million in 2004 and tore down. Since then, the Wisconsin-based company has invested close to another $8 million in the property, replacing the docks with state-of-the-art structures and building a new clubhouse.

The facility is just now officially opening for business, but the developer has been selling slips for about half a year. So far, though, only four of the slips - which cost $4,200 a linear foot for spots that can hold watercraft up to 77 feet long - have been sold, an uptake level that company spokesman Nathan Baer said was below unofficial corporate expectations.

Still, Baer said the amenities at the facility, which include individual pump-out setups and electrical service at each slip, will change that. "Jacksonville doesn't have anything like this," he said. "This is the marina of tomorrow."

The other high-end marina opening up in Jacksonville, the Yacht Clubs of the Americas facility on Heckscher Drive, is a smaller facility with some additional amenities, such as a restaurant planned for the clubhouse.

That marina also differs from Ortega Landing in that YCOA is set up like a condo association, while Ortega is set up like a country club in which memberships come with slip ownership.

Those active in the local boating community, though, say more storage space, whether high-end or not, is needed. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of registered boats in Duval County jumped by almost 5,000, to 34,071, while on the First Coast - as across the Sunshine State - wet and dry storage spots are disappearing. According to state figures, there is one dry-stack spot for every 17 or so registered vessels in Duval County.

"The marinas keep closing, and condos keep on going up in their place," said Jay Smulan, manager of boat dealership Purcells Motorcycle & Marine World. "The condos keep on taking up waterfront land, and the cost keeps on going up."

That condo market, though, is not one MLG is ignoring. Next to the marina the company plans to construct a three-building, 38-unit condo complex, with the first eight-unit building expected to be finished by January. Prices for the condos will start at $950,000.

Although the marina is not tied directly to the condos, the developers assume they'll cross-pollinate. "It should create an interesting boaters community," Baer said.

The lure of such a community should be enough to offset any softness in the condo market that remains once the buildings are finished.

"This is where the location factor comes in," said Ray Rodriguez, president of the Real Estate Strategy Center. "They're with their peers."

And with the size of the units ranging upward of 2,600 square feet, "they will be very attractive to people who live in the immediate area or who live across the river and want to relocate," Rodriguez said.