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City harbors 76 percent occupied; economy has taken wind out of boating … – Chicago Sun

Staff Reporter

September 1, 2013 3:50PM

The 31st Street Harbor, which will add 1,000-plus new boat slips, before it opened in 2012. | Sun-Times files

Updated: September 1, 2013 4:36PM

Scott Stevenson, the man in charge of the city’s harbor system, is sticking to the “If you build it, they will come” mantra when it comes to explaining the low occupancy rate at 31st Street Harbor.

But he’d like to add an addendum: Have patience.

The harbor, which opened in 2012 and cost $103 million to build, had only 319 of 1,013 spots filled in mid-August.

Like an unsecured anchor, the abysmal statistic drags on the overall occupancy rate of the city’s 10 harbors, which, with 4,381 of 5,747 total spots filled, stands at 76 percent.

“The boats don’t magically appear overnight, but they will come,” said Stevenson, executive vice president of Westrec Marinas, which is contracted by the city to run the harbor system.

The thinking when construction began in 2009 was that the harbor would fill in three to five years. “Now we’re thinking five to eight years,” said Stevenson, who, despite building the harbor in the midst of a recession that sent boat sales into a death spiral, does not regret the decision.

“I still believe it was the right thing to have done, but I don’t think anyone could have forecast the economy would take as long it has to rebound,” he said. “Over all, the number of boaters who are using the harbor system is the same as three or four years ago, we’ve just added supply.”

New boat sales, which declined by half during the recession, have been rising.

“We’ve recovered to a level of about 60 percent of what we were prior to the recession,” said Thomas Dammerich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. New boat sales in the U.S. rose 10 percent last year, with sales in Illinois slightly outpacing the national average, Dammerich said.

Steps have been taken to lure new boaters to 31st Street, like hosting an in-water boat show and implementing a three-year moratorium on the 25 percent surcharge on slips for suburban boaters. But docking fees, which, according to Stevenson, average about $3,800 a year, remain untouched.

“We haven’t lowered any prices,” said Stevenson, “But we are going to look at all our rates for next year.”

On a recent weekday, Paul Schneider, a barber from Wheaton, puffed on a cigar while grilling ribs on a dock next to his 30-foot sailboat at DuSable Harbor. His critique of the harbor’s lack of shoreside eateries and adequate shower facilities fell silent as he looked up at the city’s skyline. “Don’t get me wrong, we adore this harbor. It’s like having seats on the 50-yard line.”

“You could dock in Hammond for half the price, but there’s nothing there but the casino,” said Schneider.

At about $5,000 annually, Schneider’s docking fees are on the high end. “Its kind of like real estate: location, location, location,” Stevenson said. “These harbors make the park district a lot of money and now it’s going to be a cash cow for 100 years.”

Stevenson expects revenue to be $24 million this year, $13 million of which is profit for the Chicago Park District. Upkeep expenses jumped from $10 million to $11 million with the addition of the harbor at 31st Street, Stevenson said.


Twitter: @mitchdudek

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Annapolis to host weekend regatta

WASHINGTON – Annapolis is hosting a three-day sailing regatta this weekend featuring up to 175 boats, each with seven-member crews.

The Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association says the race is the premier sailing regatta in the mid-Atlantic states.

Boats from across the country will compete in three separate racing circles and one long-distance course.

Not all the excitement is on the water. There are tent parties featuring food, bars and live music.

The boat race is just one of the big events in the Maryland capital this weekend. Drum corps from across the country are competing at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the Drum Corps Associates World Championship this weekend.

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