St. Tammany Parish getting new marina despite glut

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SLIDELL, La. (AP) — The owner of a delayed subdivision development in Slidell is pouring the foundation for a $17 million marina he hopes will increase its appeal. It will add 170 boat slips to a segment of the North Shore real estate market that is trying to figure out how to stay afloat.

Developer Robert Torres plans the Lakeshore Estates marina to eventually have 500 boat slips, dry boat storage, a fueling dock and restaurant. The marina has been planned since before Hurricane Katrina as part of a $200 million residential project Torres has been building just outside Slidell.

More than a dozen marinas already are open on the North Shore. And, for the past couple of years, occupancy has been falling.

With 85 percent of its 150 slips in use, Marina Beau Chene west of Mandeville is at its lowest occupancy in 18 years, manager Norma Roberts said. It is working to replace revenue lost from fewer year-round leases.

"When we were full, I never rented transient slips out," Roberts said. "Now if someone needs a slip for the weekend, I'm able to accommodate them."

Roberts said occupancy rates at Beau Chene began falling in 2012, a drop she attributes to people getting away from boating as the area came out of the recession.

"We always have empty slips right now, unlike in the past when we were full and had a six-page waiting list," Roberts said.

Torres has been working on the marina for a year and a half, but only recently filed a permit with the parish to begin pouring the foundation. He expects the work to be finished within three months.

The entire development was lowed by Katrina and the recession. Torres said there are no reservations yet for the boat slips, though he has yet to begin a marketing campaign. The marina will not be limited to residents of the 300-home development, he added.

Even with downshifts in the market and established competitors, it might make sense for Torres to build the marina to jumpstart his $200 million residential development.

"I think that is going to be very important to bring that subdivision back to life," said Lynnette Boudet, a Realtor for Latter & Blum's Mandeville office.

As the economy improves she believes more people will spend money on recreational luxury items such as boats. A marina within a development like Lakeshore Estates adds value to a home, Boudet added.

"The homes are beautiful in there," she said. "I think that anything they can do to . that kind of development is going to call for that kind of amenity."

Curtis Raymond, supervisor of nearby Oak Harbor Marina, said he and the owners of the adjoining waterfront subdivision, Warren Properties of Escondido, Calif., are monitoring the Lakeshore Estates development closely.

"I'm waiting to see what they have to offer," Raymond said. "It's going to create competition for me obviously."

Oak Harbor, which has 97 slips, is about 75 percent full and isn't making money right now, he said. Raymond is looking at new ways to turn a profit at the marina, including offering more transient slips.

For Mary Eirich, owner of Slidell Marine, running a marina in St. Tammany Parish has been a struggle since she bought the business in the years following Katrina. Although it is still turning a profit, she said it's much less than it made before the storm.

Slidell Marine, with just 12 slips, is far smaller than other North Shore facilities. But Eirich, like her competitors, has been exploring new ways to make money on the property.

One is dry storage, which is also a part of Torres' plan for the Lakeshore Estates marina. The buildings provide boaters with a space to take their boats out of the water for safekeeping or repair. The spaces are a "hard sell" right now, Eirich said, because many boaters she knows have resorted to do-it-yourself solutions for loading their boats and making engine repairs.

David Stapler, owner of Salty's Marina in Madisonville, has kept his 100-slip operation near capacity by charging below-market rents. Keeping the spaces full is a priority, he said, noting 95 were taken as of this week.

Salty's charges $210 per month for a slip that can accommodate up to a 30-foot boat and $500 monthly for a floating covered dock.

"The business in western St. Tammany Parish is very competitive because there are so many marinas," Stapler said. There is another facility a stone's throw away in Madisonville, the nearby Beau Chene Marina and four marinas in Mandeville.

"I'm someone that welcomes competition," he added.

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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