The fate of Fairhope’s city marina is looking brighter, as the city looks to celebrate its past and build toward the future with its recent takeover.
While the city has always owned the marina, located along Fly Creek off of Seacliff Drive, it had previously leased the property to a private company, Eastern Shore Marine, for several decades.
Fairhope Special Assistant Lynn Maser said the city’s take back of the marina was necessary, as she said there were several issues regarding upkeep and maintenance that had turned parts of the marina into an eyesore.
“30 years later, and we’re starting here again,” Maser said. “But we’re going to turn this into something that all the people of Fairhope can be proud of and enjoy.”
Mayor Karin Wilson said improving the marina had remained a high priority for her since taking office.
“It was very important to me after I took office to evaluate all of our assets, identify income opportunities and how we can best utilize them to serve our citizens,” Wilson said. “Because this was the first city lease expiring, it was a priority.”
Wilson said she knew some council members were reluctant about a city takeover at first, she hopes it will prove to be a great decision for Fairhope.
“Although council was against the idea in the beginning, communicating the idea that the City would be the most responsible steward in creating a clean and resilient marina, and I the fact I’m advocating RESTORE act funds to help, council stepped up and made the right decision,” Wilson wrote in a statement. “We are very excited about our opportunities at the marina. It will soon be a marina that is in line with Fairhope’s character and appeal.”
The city hired a new marina manager, Captain Drew Craze, to be onsite and help manage the goings-on throughout the upgrades and transitions the city hopes to make. Craze brings with him 25 years in the private marine industry, working with large vessels and corporate entities. He has lived in Fairhope for three years and is still a licensed captain.
Craze has already helped to bolster some of the commercial lease space available at the marina by bringing in another fishing boat.
“We’re keeping all of that history here, allowing families to come down here and see acting fisherman and shrimpers doing their jobs,” Maser said.
The city has renamed the marina Fairhope Docks, which was initially seen as a throwback to the marina’s original name. However, Maser said further research was done that showed the Fairhope Docks was the original name for the Fairhope Municipal Pier and the marina was named the City Docks.
“But, personally, we like Fairhope Docks a lot better, so the name stays,” Maser said.
The city put in a new seawall this year further up Fly Creek to combat some of the aging seen in that part of the marina. Due to limited funds, the city was only able to repair and replace a few hundred feet.
Maser said now that the city would be fully running the marina, revenues generated would likely increase and be used for further improvements on site.
“All revenues from the marina will now stay at the marina,” Maser said. “Every dime stays here and goes back into the marina specifically. Those are the funds we’re starting with.”
Maser said the city has applied for several grants, including a grant for the pump out which is a 75/25 match. The pump out is a 60 gallon tank which pumps out of boats into the city’s disposal system, keeping the waters around the marina clean.
The city recently had a team of waterfront technical advisors study and review the marina thanks to a Resilient Action Technical Assistance grant funding from NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management.
“Through this grant, our city will receive a roadmap for ensuring the Fairhope Docks becomes a Clean & Resilient Marina which was recommended by our Environmental Advisory Board and our staff,” Wilson wrote on her official Facebook page. “The process will also result in recommendations for how to best design the Fairhope Docks so it will best serve our community and those who visit by water, while also considering the residences nearby. Additionally, we will analyze best practices in working waterfronts, stormwater management and disaster mitigation strategies.”
The building on site that previously held the 17 Turtles kayak rental business is currently unoccupied, but Maser and Craze said they were reviewing possible options for use, including an on-site fish market.
“We’ve had a lot of citizens that have asked for a possible fish and seafood market somewhere, so that’s something we’re possibly exploring here that would fit in well with some of the commercial fishing we already have,” Maser said. “That business used to be here, so we would love to see that come back if it can.”
Craze said he has gotten a positive response to the potential upgrades and changes from nearby businesses, including the Fly Creek Marina, Sunset Pointe restaurant and the Fairhope Yacht Club.
“I’ve been working to help build up those relationships and keep them informed of what we’re doing because we all have to be in here together,” Craze said.
Maser said when the city came back into ownership, the rebuilding of the fuel dock was already a top tier priority, but the city hit an obstacle in that process.
“When they came and started the process, we discovered there was considerable erosion that came back in under and was encroaching upon the old fuel tanks,” Maser said. “We’ve got that repaired and we have a new fuel dock. We’re looking at new fuel tanks now, and we’ll be offering gas and diesel.”
Craze said the fuel dock will be out of commission for some time as they go through the bid process and try to get exactly what they need to move forward.
Craze and Maser both said future amenities that the city might look to add to the marina space including layout changes that would allow for more space rental, an expansion to the current “lounge” area for visitors to enjoy and improvements to the restroom facilities that would include numerous improvements.
“We want to be able to offer a lot of home comforts to our visitors here,” Craze said. “We’re even making sure they have information on how they could have groceries delivered, partnering with shuttle services to try to get them downtown and possibly looking at seeing if someone would like to start a water taxi service to help get them to the Fairhope Pier. We’re exploring a lot of options.”
The pier sustained a fair amount of damage recently from Hurricane Nate, which Maser said allows the city to pursue some FEMA funds to help with needed repairs near the entrance to the marina.
“We’re waiting to hear back what may or may not be funded here, but we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward bit by bit,” Maser said.
Maser said she felt once all of the improvements and changes had been made, the Fairhope Docks would be an important new calling card for Fairhope.
“It will be one more reason to help draw people in to see what a great city we have here,” Maser said. “We’ve got a lot to work with here, and we’re hoping to make something amazing that residents and visitors alike can enjoy year-round.”