Bremerton Marina sits mostly empty at height of season

The good news is that the $34 million Bremerton Marina expansion from 2008 will be paid off by the end of the year; the bad news is that the marina sits mostly empty and is heavily subsidized.

While nearby marinas boast waiting lists and lower rates, the Bremerton Marina’s vacancy rate sits at 57 percent. In addition, the port used general fund dollars last year to subsidize the marina to the tune of $365,000.

Following staff recommendations earlier this year, port commissioners decided not to lower rates to attract more boats and boost occupancy. The plan, instead, is to weather the storm that is the recession and economic downturn while promoting the marina as a world class facility.

“Lowering rates would do nothing but lower revenue and make it very difficult to reclaim that revenue in the future since raising rates is very difficult,” said Steve Slaton, the port’s director of marine facilities.

Becky Swanson, the port’s chief financial officer, also recommended keeping rates steady even though there is a glut of unused moorage.

To lower rates “would erode existing revenue and make our losses even larger,” Swanson said.

In a presentation to port commissioners, Slaton said that new boat sales between 2007 and 2011 were down 77 percent. Slaton described the moorage market as inelastic or “unresponsive because demand is so low.”

“If no new boats are coming into the market, the demand for moorage is very low,” Slaton said.

That gloomy economic reality, which hit just as the marina opened and persists to this day, is one that Rich Peterson, the port’s new director of business development, hopes will get better.

“Maybe the way it’s turned out, it will be better in the long run because we’re ready to go and don’t have to build anything,” Peterson said. “So, I look at it from the positive side as a glass half-full situation.”

Rather than focusing on revamping the rate schedule in the short term as a counterproductive measure, Peterson is focusing on increasing the marina’s exposure to a wider and wider market of potential users. One way that is being accomplished is through access to an email system that reaches some 30,000 boaters, Peterson said.

Festivals and events in downtown Bremerton that can draw in boaters are also a great way to increase the marina’s exposure, Peterson said. In addition, ongoing regional advertising in popular boating magazines will eventually pay dividends, he said.

Peterson said that the port is also offering up-front discounts and other incentives, including one popular online service known as BoatPop, to lure in more boat owners seeking long-term moorage.

“The sweet thing about it is until somebody picks up the deal, we’re not out any money one way or the other,” Peterson said.

Peterson used a real estate analogy to describe the situation the port finds itself in when it comes to the Bremerton Marina.

“When it comes to real estate, people talk about timing,” Peterson said. “The other thing that they talk about is location, location, location. I think we’ve got a tremendous, one-of-a-kind location and just missed out on the timing. When this economy turns, I’d rather be ahead of the curve than trying to catch up to it.”


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