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2020 November December Marina World

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The magazine from the marina industry


PLANNING & DESIGN The challenge of refurbishment in French marinas by Jean-Michel Gaigné CMM Easy-going businesses are becoming financial burdens. When a householder builds a private residence according to his/her expectations, over time, it is often feasible to add a small extension, remove a partition, or change the interior layout to cope with a new way of life, e.g. when the children grow older or circumstances change. There is no need to demolish the building and affect the foundations! But what seems to be fairly simple on a domestic front, sadly doesn’t translate in the design of marinas and other public infrastructure, where making significant change to the original premise can become an almost unsurpassable undertaking. The French paradise of public marinas When the first marina developments took place in France a few decades ago, between the early seventies and the nineties, their layout was designed to suit current needs: fairly narrow boats with an average length of 6 to 12m (19 to 39ft) and a mix of power and sail. Everyone was happy with the design, first and foremost the municipalities and the public entities involved in the financing. Mayors and local governments were proud of Major refurbishment and extension work underway at busy and successful Port Haliguen Quiberon in the south of Brittany. their brand-new marina as a symbol of the City’s dynamism and key to the development of tourism. Indeed, France is a country where about 75% of marinas have been funded by public resources and are still managed by public entities. Thereafter, the facts seemed to prove them right. All existing marinas were fully booked with long waiting lists, offered affordable fees, and business was easy going incurring a certain nonchalance on the part of those involved. Of course, easy income meant that financial provision for maintenance projects was made, but now 30 to 40 years later, we are facing an entirely different situation. Don’t worry, be happy! When it comes to replacing pontoons and fingers with identical infrastructure, buying new power pedestals and updating electrical wiring after 20 years, the task is straightforward. It’s much the same if you are just looking to change the lighting columns or refurbish the marina office. Such tasks are anticipated and tallied in the marina accounts. But the issue lies elsewhere, as we must not repeat what belongs to the past and marinas have to rise to a new challenge. The berth-holders have changed, the average size of boats has significantly increased, newer boat models have wider beams, and customer requirements have evolved, too. A marina designed in the seventies offers plenty of berths for 6m (19ft) boats but today’s demand is for 10m (33ft) vessels and bigger. Berths dedicated to multihulls were non-existent, while nowadays there is a boom in the catamaran market. RIBs and trailerable motorboats are also now very popular. They require not only a boat ramp, but an adjacent large parking space for cars and trailers during the day. And what about electric boats? Although not yet common, they may require specific equipment and a high amperage electric distribution in a few years’ time. Very few elected politicians have, in fact, ever imagined that things could be any different in the future. A municipal marina, built 30 years ago, was seen as a ‘forever’ infrastructure. Unless the mayor is a boat fanatic, politicians were not aware of market changes due to an unchanging mantra over the years that identified all French marinas as oversubscribed. Their marina managers, even if not lulled into the illusion of a tranquil business, were not always listened to, and rarely encouraged to reverse the trend and rush things! Up the creek without a paddle As a consequence, there are public marina operators in an awkward position, and sometimes completely stuck. Not all, fortunately. Some public marina management companies run very successful marinas in the most coveted sites, where the demand is still strong and income comfortable. Others operate in locations where there is still some flexibility, both on the water surface and on land. A few county 34 – November/December 2020

PLANNING & DESIGN Right: Beautiful Perros-Guirec Marina needs rejuvenation in order to attract more berth holders. Below: Installing new piling forms part of the ongoing maintenance budget provided other new infrastructure is fitted on a like-for-like basis. councils have put boating at the top of their priorities, as a central attractive feature, and consequently mobilise resources. But there are also many yacht harbours that can barely begin to prepare for the future without expensive refurbishment work. When floating pontoons are anchored by piles, this dictates a given fairway width. It is not possible to accommodate longer boats without obstructing the fairway. Consequently, there is no other alternative than to remove the existing structures, invest in new piling and re-design the marina layout. Of course, with today’s wider vessels, berths have to be resized too, which means a loss of berthing capacity. Sometimes, office buildings and shops have to be moved away in order to revamp the quayside surface, or to incorporate necessary features or facilities. I could also include the dredging costs that have to be met solely using marina budgets while ever more stringent environmental regulations lead to more expensive solutions. When all’s told, we might just get to keep the main breakwater and the quays! Money gets tight If this is so, how can we finance a complete rejuvenation of marinas when it becomes necessary to wipe out a huge part of the existing infrastructure? This is a main issue and a sword of Damocles hanging over municipalities and public operators, particularly when public money and subsidies, including those from the EU, are more and more scarce. The concession rules do not offer any escape. First of all, when the remaining concession granted to the municipality lasts for as little as ten years, it might give too little time to undertake such heavy duty work, amortise the investment and repay the debts. And if the concession is about to end, usual contracts just mention that the harbour facilities have to be returned to the authority granting the concession (generally, the state or regional councils) in a good state of repair. Even in good condition, where is the interest in recovering ownership of something which is clearly old-fashioned and no longer tailored to the needs of the market? A comparison can be found in the mountains, where thousands of socalled ‘studio cabins’ were built at ski resorts in the early seventies. These buildings of very small flats offering accommodation for the whole family with only bunk beds, a mezzanine and a kitchenette are no longer in line with customer expectations. They are hard to rent, hard to sell and likely to be heavily refurbished, even demolished within a few years. But this is private investment, and the problem is different. The French model is reaching its limits So, what is going to happen with the outdated designed marinas? No one has the answer, yet. The topic is however highly sensitive, considering that, in France, marina berthing fees have to be endorsed every year by berth holder representatives in the local port councils irrespective of the legal status of the marina management. Thus, in public marinas, any willingness to substantially increase the berthing tariff is often challenged by the customers, leaving mayors and local governments to facilitate a politically uncomfortable dynamic. Moreover, the demand for marina berths has decreased over the past few years, and the business becomes harder in some coastal areas where all seemed very easy for so long. Without public subsidies being injected into publicly-operated marinas, the risk of them falling into disuse may well become a reality. As concession end-dates loom, private investors lie in wait for opportunities, and this could be a serious warning, forecasting the decline of the French model of public marinas. – November/December 2020 35

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