Town of Palm Beach Marina Wins Over its Boaters and the Community

Completely renovating a marina is a complicated process. Adding to that challenge is having the marina sit in the middle of a residential area, in an exclusive destination with strict building guidelines. Then toss in a pandemic and complexity takes on a whole new level. But for Town of Palm Beach Marina in Palm Beach, Florida, it’s all in a day’s work, which is what landed them the 2023 Marina of the Year Building and Growing Award.

The plans to overhaul the marina were long in coming as the facility had seen few improvements since the early 1990s. “The town is a worldwide destination. Not having a marina befitting the town was a mistake and the town council had the foresight to say it was time to renovate,” said Carolyn Stone, Deputy Town Manager-Business Enterprise and Culture.

With its unique location, plans for the remodel, that would better accommodate an upscale clientele, had to be reviewed by not just the town planners and council, but also by the neighbors. To push back against any community complaints about the project, the town committed to creating a more beautified, park-like setting that wasn’t there before. “We didn’t add a restaurant or fuel that would bring more traffic,” Stone said. “We promised to cater to professional yacht crews, not the feared rowdy boaters that some worried about. We built trust and got everyone to understand the town would be true to its word and not impact their quality of life.”

Town of Palm Beach Marina’s renovation and robust new branding efforts have brought the facility recognition as a world class marina

Renovating Against the Odds
With $4.4 million contributed from the Florida Inland Navigation District to help fund the project, the marina began its $40 million renovation in May 2020, right when the pandemic was hitting its stride. Stone explained there was pushback about the construction being an essential service, but she was able to argue that the renovation was needed and would be good for the town.

“We knew people wanted to be on their boats, we felt that even in May 2020 before the real boating boom happened. I was on the phone all the time arguing for the project to continue and we were able to keep going with help from a great team from the town, our partners, and vendors,” said Stone.

The renovation was slated to be completed in under two years, but only if the marina was shut down. “We’re in a residential neighborhood, so to drag out the work would not have flown with our neighbors. Once we mobilized, we just kept moving forward through the dredging, new docks, and higher seawall. The residents understood the value, so the closure was not a problem,” said Mike Horn, marina manager.

Onsite work began with the demolition of the old docks which were replaced by a Bellingham Marine concrete floating dock system that allowed for wider and deeper slips to accommodate boats from 60 to 295’, including 10 superyacht slips. The project stayed within the existing marina footprint and now has 84 slips. A new seawall, bulkhead, and support buildings were constructed, shore power was expanded, and amenities like Wi-Fi, gated docks, lighting, and security cameras were added. To further cater to their exclusive clientele, the marina also implemented a cart and porter concierge service.

Marketing a Brand
With the marina closed, the town worked behind the scenes to create a brand for the marina and advertise. “Everyone knows Palm Beach but not the marina,” commented Stone. She and her team created a robust marketing plan that included the new brand, style guide, and logo and extended to every aspect of the facility. “We worked through what we wear, how we answer the phone, and the language we speak. We wanted to give a white glove experience and create the ambiance of a world-class resort,” she said.

The newly renovated marina retains a small-town feel, adhering to strict codes and specific architecture that reflects a Mediterranean style. The adjacent park the town created is filled with Florida-friendly plants that line a walking and bike path that spans the entire length of the marina. The path was made with pavers matching the rest of the town and has features such as tiled dog fountains and marble benches to give it the feel of a botanical garden. The public has vistas overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and the marina.

The work has paid off as the marina boasts a 91% occupancy rate with its annual leases and is able to backfill the remaining slips with a busy transient business. Horn said that the hospitality level is high, and his team leads with a “yes” mentality. “You must be out and about for customers. Someone always tries to push the envelope because we’re a marina, but we thwart that by having a presence. We treat our customers with respect even if we have to say ‘no’. We tell them ‘no’ nicely,” Horn said.

Horn’s comments reflect the marina’s mission, which is to enrich and enhance the Town of Palm Beach Marina by providing superior and professional customer service. The team practices its core values of excellence, reliability, heritage, white-glove service, security, and innovation. As their Building and Growing Award reflects, mission accomplished.