Optimism high as Palm Beach Boat Show opens

With boat sales rebounding and mega-yachts hot, hopes were high Thursday as the largest-ever Palm Beach International Boat Show opened in West Palm Beach featuring more than 1,000 vessels.

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Many participants are keen on a $375 million waterfront development underway in nearby Riviera Beach that will offer extra docks, restaurants, retail, a promenade and 400 residences over about 10 years.

They’re also excited about rising boat production, sales and jobs.

Palm Beach boat show kicks off Thursday in biggest edition yet

Show exhibitor Viking Yacht Co., for example, plans to boost its output in New Jersey from about 65 yachts this year to 100 annually in five years. Viking now services about 500 yachts yearly at its repair facilities in Palm Beach County. More yachts sold means more jobs at those boatyards in the county that now employ 175 people, said President Patrick Healy.

To provide job training, the Riviera Beach Maritime Academy aims to expand to 600 students instead of 200 yearly, with an emphasis on minorities, added Bob Healey, president of Viking Development, which is leading and will manage the 26-acre Riviera Beach waterfront project.

The Palm Beach boat show this year includes more mega-yachts than ever: about 70 in the 80- to 200-foot range, said Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III, who leads Show Management, the Fort Lauderdale company that organizes the show.

There’s also fast growth in displays of boats in the 40- to 60-foot segment, up 17 percent from last year, Zimbalist said.

“That means the entry level boat is coming back,” he said, “and that’s what we need for the health of the industry long-term.”

Biggest yacht at Palm Beach boat show: 200-foot Aurora

Biggest yacht at Palm Beach boat show: 200-foot Aurora Doreen Hemlock For those who want to live large on the water, consider the biggest yacht at this week’s Palm Beach International Boat Show: the 200-foot Aurora. For those who want to live large on the water, consider the biggest yacht at this week’s Palm Beach International Boat Show: the 200-foot Aurora. ( Doreen Hemlock ) –>

Since the recession hit in 2008, crippling business, the marine industry in Palm Beach County has been recovering at an ever faster speed. It brought more than $1.8 billion in economic impact in fiscal 2014, about double the level in 2010. That helped support more than 18,000 jobs in the county, according to a recent study by consultants Thomas Murray Associates for the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County.

Still, there are concerns for the industry’s future.

Many participants worry that the proposed high-speed rail project All Aboard Florida will require too many closures of bridges along local rivers, hurting access for boats to marinas and repair yards.

Some boaters also are concerned that real estate developers are maximizing profits on waterfront land by building condo towers and retail, limiting access for watercraft.

Walking the docks of the show under sunny skies, Michael Kosky, 57, of Panama City Beach, had few other worries than admiring the variety of vessels, from smaller fishing boats to a super-yacht with a helicopter.

“You look at this place and you can tell it’s recovering by the number of boats here,” Kosky said.

The Palm Beach International Boat Show runs through Sunday on the West Palm Beach waterfront. More than 40,000 are expected to attend, organizers said.

This story will be updated. Check back for more information.

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com, 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

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