State’s Indian River Marina seeing better days ahead

April 5, 2013

In 2023, just 10 years from now, state officials expect their Indian River Marina to start making serious money for Delaware. That’s when an $8.85 million loan from the state’s 21st Century Parks Endowment will be paid back.

By that time, when the inlet area has fully completed its transition from bridge construction zone to a dynamic recreation area with two campgrounds, two bathhouses, wide ocean beaches, waterfront promenades, bicycle and walking trails and playgrounds, officials expect the inlet and marina area to become a major destination for Delaware.

Greg Abbott, administration and support section manager for Delaware’s parks, said state parks people attended the annual RV show in Hershey, Pa., last September. “There were about 42,000 people in attendance. The largest show in the east. We had a booth there and it’s amazing how many out-of-state visitors came up to us saying how much they loved Delaware Seashore State Park.”

In an interview last week, Abbott said the marina still has $6.45 million to pay back to the state but has never missed an annual payment and receives no operating subsidies from the state. The payments include principal and 4 percent interest.

“The marina is part of Delaware Seashore State Park,” said Abbott, “but it’s a separate business enterprise that is completely self-supporting including debt service.”

The $2 million annual budget supports seven employees year-round and another 13 during the summer months. They help manage and maintain the 274-wet-slip marina, the 160 or so berths in the dry-storage facility, buildings that house bait and tackle, seafood and fuel service operations, and a fish-cleaning station next to two head boats that operate out of the marina. The marina operation also oversees cottages along Indian River Inlet that are filled to capacity during the season.

“We’re still plugging away at the payments. It’s pretty amazing considering that we were just getting rolling here when the economy was going south. It’s been the worst possible conditions, but we’re still making those payments,” said Abbott.

Not that the economy didn’t bruise the marina. Manager Theresa Mosier, who Abbott credits for keeping the marina afloat during the tough time, used a one-word adjective to describe her feelings about the fact that only 174 out of 274 wet slips are currently spoken for. “Horrible.”

But she said the marina is now on a good track. “Hardly anyone has left this year, and we’ve signed up six new customers in the last 30 days. Last April and May we averaged about 28 new customers. At that rate we will fill up again soon. I think we’re ahead of the game relative to a lot of other marinas. We’re seeing a lot more activity now with some warmer days. And more people with boats in their yards are ready to get them out.”

Most telling, Mosier said, there are a lot fewer people losing their boats to the bank. “There was tons of that in the last several years, but only one this year.”

Marina used to be full

That’s a lot different from in the first years after the state invested its $8.85 million in new slips, dry storage, buildings, ramps, boat lifts and other facilities. “It was always at 100 percent capacity in those first years,” said Abbott. “We had a waiting list of more than 100 boats. I think as the economy picks up we’ll be full again.”

In the meantime, Mosier is trying to create a destination for people to come to. “We’re adding horseshoe pits and a place for people to hang out.”

While we talked at an outdoor picnic table along the waterfront, contractors sawed, nailed and painted a new outdoor bar into place in front of the main marina building. Hammerheads of Dewey Beach has contracted with the state to operate a dockside restaurant and bar, further adding to the destination feel of the marina. Greg Plummer of Hammerheads, taking a break, sat in this week’s sunshine and enjoyed the optimism it brings. He said he didn’t know how the enterprise would work out, but he is willing to take a chance. “Scared money doesn’t make money,” he said.

Looking around at the clean, well-kept marina and its grounds, it’s clear that Mosier is taking the state’s investment seriously. She’s quick to point out that the marina has the cleanest restrooms anywhere. Everyone knows how important that is. And Abbott doesn’t hide his optimism either.

“I think we have the finest public marina anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard,” said Abbott. “With all the enhancements coming in the next 18 months, this place is going to become a hotbed of activity.”

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