Marina Dock Age and the Docks Expo also recognized 20 men and women under the age of 40 for their dedication and ongoing efforts to improve the marina and boatyard industry at the 2021 Young Leader Awards ceremony on Wednesday, December 1. This year’s award winners are:
Corinne Ashford, Business Development Specialist, K&R Dock Accessories
Geoff Butts, General Manager, Glade Marina
Captain Ryan Coffin, Lead Technician, Yarmouth Boat Yard
Laura East, Dockmaster, Strouts Point Wharf Company
Matt Fradette, Cofounder, Dockwa
Dan Grovatt, Managing Director, Leisure Property Advisors/Colliers International
Kevin Harvey, Marketing Manager, Oasis Marinas
Charlotte Jacunski, General Manager, NorthShore Marina
John Judice, General Manager, Marina Bay Harbor Marina
Matt Kier, General Manager, Anclote Village Marina
Matt Maasen, Assembly, Installation, and Service Manager, Poly Lift Boat Lifts
Kenny Mass, Sales Business Development Manager, Scribble Software Inc.
Hunter Miller, Rental Manager, Cottonwood Creek Marina
Kyle Morley, President, Dock and Marina Services
Marissa Neely, Business Manager, Safe Harbor Ventura Isle
Kathryn Ross, General Manager, Marina Jack Yacht Basin (Suntex Marinas)
Matthew Ruffolo, Owner/Operator, Dockhand Services LLC
Mallory Smith, Assistant General Manager, Loggerhead Marina/Fish Tale
Pack St Clair III, Owner, Summerset/DuraTek Boat Lifts
Marisa Tranghese, Director of Underwriting, Maritime Program Group/ Division of One80 Intermediaries
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Since it bought Marina Bay Harbor Marina in Clear Lake, Texas, VIP Marinas has been upgrading and improving the dry stack facility. The company’s goal is to create a premiere, best-in-class, top-service dry stack marina in an area that has the third largest concentration of registered pleasure boats in the U.S., according to owner Austin Cameron.
When VIP Marinas took over the facility in January 2021, the marina was in a state of disrepair. The previous owners had not addressed the damage that the docks sustained from two hurricanes, and the concrete was so broken up and full of holes that it was impossible to drive on in some areas. There was no ship store, no ice and no fuel available. While the dry stack facility was still in excellent shape, the rest of the marina was rundown.
VIP Marinas hired John Judice, who had worked at the facility as a teenager, as the marina’s new general manager. He oversaw all the upgrades and improvements, including the repair of the concrete, the removal of the old docks, and the installation of new floating aluminum docks with ipe decking, which were built by Flagship Dock Services of Lake Travis, Texas.
“We have about 400 extra feet of dock space than we did previously, and we extended the launch dock from 50 feet out to 72 feet. We can now accommodate about six medium-sized boats, where before we could only handle about two,” said Judice. To improve the efficiency of the launch process, the docks were designed without finger piers; marina workers can launch the boats and walk them all down to the very end of the dock.
Judice has upgraded the overall look of the marina with new landscaping (including palm trees), a newly renovated parking lot plus additional lighting and security. In addition, the marina staff now runs a floor scrubber twice a week to keep the dust down in the facility.
Marina Bay Harbor Marina also purchased a new large forklift, a 35,000-pound hoist Neptune, and already has a 30,000 Wiggins Marina Bull. This will enable them to handle boats up to 47 feet long. With the new forklifts, the marina is able to offer dry storage for larger boats that didn’t previously have that option in Clear Lake, as well as hurricane storage for boat owners who want to get their vessels out of the water for the duration of the storm.
The marina now includes a small ship’s store that sells clothing, beverages and live bait, which has been popular with area fishermen. Families with kids particularly enjoy the ice cream that’s sold at the store. Dry slip holders also have access to bathrooms and showers 24/7. A new fuel system that sells both ethanol fuel and, in response to customer demand, non-ethanol fuel has been installed. “Non-ethanol fuels have been big for us; we’re actually selling more non-ethanol premium fuel than ethanol regular,” Judice said.
To provide valet-style service, Marina Bay Harbor Marina now offers an app that allows its customers to select the time that they want to be in the water, the amount of fuel they want in their boat and any snacks or ice that they want placed aboard. “When they get to the marina, they can just hop out of the car and jump right onto the boat,” Judice said.
In the coming months, Marina Bay Harbor Marina plans to add additional docks to provide more space for transient boaters and for customers that want to keep their boats in the water for a few days. It will be building a larger ship store, and will be opening a new service center as well. “We want to be the number one service center in the area, a place where people can bring their boats in for anything they need and we’ll get it done for them in a timely manner,” Judice said.
Boaters in the area have responded favorably to all the changes. In just 10 months, Marina Bay Harbor Marina has gone from 40 percent occupancy to 91 percent occupancy. The marina has also developed partnerships with the Clear Lake Boat Club and TOPPS Boat Club.
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As boaters arrive at Northshore Marina on Lake Travis in Jonestown, Texas, a massive 12-foot-tall steel statue greets them as they make their way to their slips. The abstract piece depicting a boat rooster tail, was the brainchild of recently retired Northshore Marina general manager Billy Neel. Neel envisioned the artwork as the centerpiece of the marina, which he had overseen since the facility was built back in 2001. He wanted to create a sense of community, where every staff member and boater would feel welcome and comfortable.
Over the last two decades, Neel’s vision for Northshore Marina has come to life. In 2016, Austin Cameron, owner of VIP Marinas, acquired the marina with the intention of retaining Neel’s core values and beliefs for the facility.
Cameron shares those same principles as a marina owner. “Our vision is to be a destination marina where people create positive memories that last a lifetime,” he said. “We strive to exceed our customer’s expectations every day and ensure every boating experience they have is a great one.”
In just a few short years, the facility has flourished, expanding from 194 slips to 337 covered slips and more than 100 personal watercraft (PWC) ports. A series of carefully planned updates and additions, a meticulously trained staff, and a dedication to supporting the surrounding waterfront community has culminated in awarding Northshore Marina the Marina Dock Age 2021 large Marina of the Year.
20 Years in the Making
Northshore Marina is located within The Hollows, a master-planned residential community northwest of Austin, Texas on the north shore of Lake Travis. The facility is the only truly deep water marina on the lake, sitting along more than 150 feet of water. The depth allows the marina to stay close to shore and keep the walk for tenants to a minimum through flood or drought. “When the marina was built in 2001, the residential development was just getting started. Billy used to joke that he couldn’t give a slip away,” Cameron said. “But as the city of Austin grew and The Hollows became a popular destination for vacation homes, business at the marina started to increase.”
Unfortunately, the collapse of the housing market in 2008 forced The Hollows and Northshore Marina into bankruptcy. Another investment group bought the marina in 2012 and subsequently sold it in 2016 to Cameron, who currently owns 12 other marinas in Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas. “We saw the potential to transform the marina into a destination,” he added. “Today, the subdivision is booming with big estate homes popping up all around the marina.”
General manager Charlotte Jacunski said 70% of Northshore Marina’s members are residents of The Hollows. “We also have members coming in from the surrounding communities of Round Rock, Georgetown, and Cedar Park, which are all within 30 minutes of us,” she said. “We even have people from Houston and about 10 families from Colorado, who bring more people with them every year. We love being able to accommodate boaters from all over the region.”
Expansions at the marina started in late 2017, with phase one including 71 new covered slips and a new pumpout station. The following two years saw multiple renovations and additions including a new parking deck for golf carts and bikes, 59 additional slips, a new kayak deck, and a new work barge and welding machine to be used for in-house anchoring and maintenance.
Transforming the ship’s store into a profit center for the marina was also a top priority. In 2019, the ship’s store was moved to a different dock and expanded to 1,600 square feet. Offering four fuel pumps, a pumpout station, fresh water fill up, and a variety of drinks, food, and clothing, the ship’s store has become one of the most profitable elements of the marina.
Another big investment was the addition of a second tram in 2018. Due to the marina’s location at the bottom of a cliff on Lake Travis, the docks are only accessible via tram. “Everyone was using the same elevator, and if it broke, they were all using the stairs,” Jacunski said. “We installed the second tram because we were adding all the new slips. We didn’t want our members to get frustrated by having to wait in line to get down to their boats.”
Emphasis on Employee Training
While upgrading and improving the facility is an essential part of the business model at Northshore Marina, having a reliable, well-trained, and attentive staff is equally important.
Each team member hired at the marina participates in MY MARINA, an internally developed training program focused on customer service.
The program highlights the importance of creating positive relationships with each customer and then focuses on the fundamental training needed to work at the marina. Rachel Gauspohl, a team member at VIP Marina, another VIP Marinas facility on Lake Travis in nearby Leander, Texas, created the MY MARINA program. The program is company-wide and then tailored to fit each marina. “The theory is that all of our employees, whether they have been employed with us for 12 weeks or 12 years, know everything about the facility, our philosophy, and our vision,” Cameron said. “Service starts the moment a boater pulls up or arrives at a slip. It could be a staff member pumping gas or catching the line. The front of the line person truly makes or breaks that first experience for a boater.”
The training program also gives management the opportunity to speak to their seasonal employees about future careers in the marine industry. Jacunski makes sure her staff understands that a marina career is an option. “We realize that they might want to go to college, but we encourage them to come back and see us. We might have a position that could lead to a future here,” she said.
Felecia Ongley, chief operating officer of VIP Marinas, pointed to Jacunski as a prime example of why a career in the marine industry is a viable option.
Jacunski started out as a dockhand at VIP Marina when she was 19 years old. A few years ago, she transferred to Northshore to start training with Neel, who had plans to retire. “Charlotte was a standout immediately. She has been Billy’s right hand for the last few years and took over as general manager in October,” Ongley said. “She has gained the respect of her peers, she can handle any crisis, and by being mentored by Billy, she will take Northshore to the next level.”
A Sense of Community
The entire team at Northshore Marina takes customer service to heart when it comes to developing relationships with their members and the surrounding community. “Billy started this marina with zero boats and retired with 100% occupancy and a waiting list of over 100 people,” Jacunski said. “That sense of community was particularly important to him. He thought of many ways to make members happy. He made sure that boaters with similar personalities were placed in the same section of the marina. Those little things helped to build Northshore into what it is today.”
The marina organizes several events throughout the year, including a Start of Summer party where they have live music and food on their amenity deck. Although the pandemic forced Jacunski to cancel most group events, over the years the marina has hosted cardboard boat races, salsa competitions, chili cook offs, and Fourth of July fireworks viewing parties. “Charlotte and the whole staff do a tremendous job bringing everyone together. It has become such a close-knit community that even our members use our social media page to post their events,” said Jenny Cameron, Austin Cameron’s wife and co-owner of VIP Marinas.
Since 2018, Northshore has incorporated fundraising initiatives into a few of their events. The marina and staff supports local organizations in the community, as well as Mission of Hope, which provides relief for Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Folds of Honor, a national nonprofit foundation that provides the families of fallen and disabled service members educational scholarships. Earlier this year, Jacunski organized an online silent auction where members were able to bid on donated items including boat cleanings, a weekend getaway at a nearby condo, and parking spaces at the marina. “We ended up raising $15,000, which the marina matched,” Jacunski said. “Our fundraising events tend to be our members’ favorite events. Everyone enjoys being involved in a great cause. And to be able to donate $30,000 was a huge achievement for everyone involved.”
Operating the marina does present a few challenges, with the biggest obstacle being the fluctuating water levels. Lake Travis plays a vital role for the city of Austin and the surrounding communities. The lake is dammed on both sides and the water is used for irrigating farmland in south Texas. It also supplies drinking water for the city of Austin, as well as Cedar Park and Leander. This demand leads to wildly fluctuating water levels, sometimes as much as 65 feet. The historical minimum to maximum water height change for the lake is 100 feet. In 2018, the marina dealt with a 20-foot increase in a 24-hour period. Jacunski credits Northshore’s maintenance team, led by Nick Clifton, for protecting the marina from these dramatic changes. “We have floating docks with a Chapman anchor cable system. The maintenance team manages the 250 anchor points, and they hand crank all of them when needed,” she said.
Since 2017, the maintenance team has had to combat the potentially damaging effects of zebra mussels. These invasive freshwater mussels are originally native to lakes in Russia and Ukraine but have been accidentally introduced to countries around the world. The fingernail-sized mollusks filter out algae that native species need for food, and they attach to utilities and other surfaces underwater. The maintenance crew is consistently in the water, wiping off the underwater electrical and gas lines to eliminate the extra weight caused by the mussels. “It has become a profit center for our diver because he will scrape the bottoms of tenants’ boats and boat lifts,” Jacunski said. “We are also selling a lot more boat lifts than ever before.”
It is those unexpected things, such as the added maintenance that is now required to deal with the zebra mussels, that the Northshore crew constantly prepares to tackle. Cameron credits the success of the marina to the entire staff’s camaraderie and teamwork mentality. “We are positioning ourselves to weather the next storm,” Cameron said. “The marina business is booming, something we did not expect the pandemic to produce. We are seeing a much more diverse group of new boaters coming in, which is great for the marina industry. And it is our job to welcome those people, so they continue to return to the water for years to come.”
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In January 2021, Austin and Jenny Cameron, owners of VIP Marinas, bought the Meridian Marina in Palm City, Florida. The marina, located on the banks of the St. Lucie River, was in foreclosure as the previous owner had declared bankruptcy. The 62,000- square-foot dry storage facility had been in a state of disrepair since Hurricane Irma swept through the area in 2017.
“The siding had been blown off and the roof was leaking badly. Rust from the roof was falling in on the boats,” said Jenny Cameron. The building, which has space for 260 boats up to 42 feet long, was in such bad condition that the Camerons couldn’t get it insured.
The new owners began renovations almost immediately. To save money on the project, they worked with Extreme Metal Fabricators, a local metal supply/fabrication house. “This is a small community, so we thought it was important to support local business here,” said Austin Cameron. They also hired David Coyle of Mack David Building as a consultant to oversee the project and make sure that the facility was properly constructed. As of late May 2021, installation of the roof and metal wall panels was almost complete, ready for the planned decorative panels.
Even before the renovations, occupancy of the facility was almost at 70% because of the huge popularity of boating in the area. With the renovations, Jenny Cameron said they expect to be at 100% occupancy very soon. So the owners are planning an addition to the facility that will include another 280 boat racks. Half of them will be in an addition to the current dry storage facility, and will be able to accommodate boats up to 50 feet. The other half will be located outside on the marina’s 11.75-acre site. The marina is currently going through the permitting and approval process for the additional slips, and the Camerons say that City representatives have verbally supported their plans.
When VIP Marinas took over the marina, the concrete paths and launch areas were full of potholes. “There’s a giant hole on our launch area where they had pulled out the gas tank from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s,” said Austin Cameron.
Before they could replace all of the broken, cracked and patched concrete, that area had to undergo several environmental tests and gain approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“We finally got our final, fourth round of tests, and we have clean soil, so we’re going to be repouring 12-inch-thick concrete for the entire path,” said Austin. The marina has also replaced two old forklifts with newer, safer ones.
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