Village West Marina Transforms from Boat Storage to Boater DestinationPublished on February 18, 2022
Village West Marina, a 650-slip marina in Stockton, California, has not had a year, since 2015, that they were not renovating or adding new services to their already busy facility. The marina is more than 40 years old, so age plays into the need for upgrades, but Village West has gone above and beyond simple repairs to work towards their goal of becoming the best full-service marina in the Delta and to spark their receipt of Marina Dock Age’s Building and Growing Award for 2021.
When Arron Pellarin and his brother bought the marina six years ago, it was basically a place to store boats that lacked the amenities and services that today’s boaters are looking for. With a management philosophy based on customer service, endless amenities, cleanliness, safety, and integrity, the brothers put together a management team and staff willing and able to roll up their sleeves to completely transform the property. Over the past six years, covered slips and HydroHoists have been added to expand options for slip holders. To accommodate those who need overnight accommodations when they come to the marina to visit boaters, they added a 9-space RV Park and guest bungalows. Keeping the community in mind the retail complex was expanded with the addition of a yacht broker, boat rentals, a fishing deck, and ice cream parlor. And finally, to keep everyone happy, they installed a dog park, which general manager Vickie Baumann said has become their most popular amenity, along with the RV park.
She explained that while the changes of the entire facility have been transformative these two services have been among the most used. “The nine small RV spots have been 90% occupied since they opened. And RVers and boaters alike almost always travel with dogs so it was no surprise the park has become a popular gathering place,” Baumann said. “We see what the public wants and then see it through to fruition. Arron and Claude (the owners) have the vision, means, and ability to bring it all to reality so we’ve been very fortunate to keep going,” she said.
Pellarin said that there isn’t one answer as to which of their projects has paid off the most. “It’s the synergy of all that’s been created and done. We got this buzz going that this is the place to be, that there’s something for everybody so when you come to our marina, for a weekend or month you won’t run out of things to do.”
Keeping Customers Happy
The many renovations and additions have sparked a dramatic change in the demographics of their customers who both Bauman and harbormaster Tim Fontaine say are now more responsible and nicer, understanding that boats need care and upkeep and it’s great to get out and use them. With slip sizes ranging from 20 feet to 90 feet the marina attracts a wide range of ages and backgrounds creating a very diverse clientele.
Keeping the tenants happy and onboard through the long-haul of renovation and construction has been a challenge, but Fontaine said they get on board once they see the results. “It’s hard to keep the hospitality and customer service where we want it to be with construction everywhere. The bathrooms on the west side took forever to be permitted due to COVID-19 and we knew there was frustration, but we kept encouraging our customers, telling them what our vision was,” he said. The entire team listened carefully to their tenants in making decisions on what amenities and changes were needed, explained the reasons for changes and the process, and in that way received support before the work was underway.
Pellarin pointed out it was not just keeping the customers on board that was a hurdle. “Keeping the staff motivated for six years and having them believe in the dream to turn a sleepy marina into a destination resort was hard. It’s hard to look into the future, but we all learned to start every day with the attitude that we’re just going to keep improving,” he said. Motivation also came from having both short and long-term plans for maintaining and upgrading infrastructure and sticking to target dates.
A complicating factor for staying on time was the limited time the state allows docks to be rebuilt so as not to disturb critical habitat. Overall, any renovations have had to consider the strict environmental regulations of the Delta which has added, time, expense, and some headaches to planned changes, but the team understands the fragile environment in which they sit needs protection. They implemented a stormwater runoff program including a bioswale that runs around the marina to filter out solids and debris before it reaches the river, and the facility was a test site for the State Water Quality Control board to monitor Ecoli. The management team also mechanically harvests aquatic weeds, working with the State to ensure the actions are effective.
The environmental efforts have paid off as the marina became only the second 5 Gold Anchor rated facility in the United States through the international Gold Anchor program. Fontaine explained that while the marina had an advantage of already being certified under the West Coast Clean Marine program, Gold Anchor also explores the physical conditions of the full facility and the hospitality, management, and operations. “It made us take another look at our operations from the ground up on every aspect of the marina. It is more than just a facility to store boats,” he said. The process began with a review of the reference material from Gold Anchor that was received in March 2020, and accreditation was awarded in November 2021.
“We saw it as an extra way to stand out and show local agencies that look at fuel and environmental practices that we’re going above and beyond. The award is extra validation and also a good way to educate our boaters of what it is to practice clean boating habits,” Fontaine said. Bauman and Fontaine take their responsibilities a step further as both volunteer to keep their waters clean. Fontaine is a director of the Clean Marine Program and Baumann is active with the statewide Dockwalker program that educates boaters on best environmental practices for keeping up their boats.
The work at Village West shows no signs of slowing down. Pellarin said this next year is all about the renovation of a neighboring tennis and swim club on an adjacent property that he purchased last year. “The club closed during the pandemic so we bought it back and plan to completely rebuild and reimagine with recreational classes, as well as swim and tennis. We’ll be doing this through 2022 and then open it up to the Stockton community and our tenants,” he said. Looking beyond, Pellarin said they will focus on refining what they have built, from improvements in customer service to the dock systems. Bauman jokes that “Arron and his brother don’t let us rest. They are not done yet.”