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Trendsetters: Marine Industries

Testing the Waters

On Lori Baer’s mind is finding an entrepreneur willing to risk fast-ferry service to the Bahamas. Also in her plans is widening and deepening the Port of Palm Beach’s troublesome channel. She’s contemplating an inland logistics “port” for warehousing, distribution and manufacturing in western Palm Beach County. She needs to get revenue up, keep costs down, bring in more passenger business and tackle a host of other goals.

Lori Baer
"I never could have imagined how hard it would be to be the director and how much responsibility it is."
— Lori Baer

Port of Palm Beach, Executive Director, Riviera Beach

Hobbies: A 1987 Porsche, Porsche Club of America autocross events, and, through her husband, Jerry, tropical fish
Future: “I’m a big fan of development of fast ferries.” Cloud X, the last one in Palm Beach, closed last year, citing rising fuel costs and hurricane disruptions.
Trade: “U.S. trade with the Caribbean, as a trading bloc, is more than U.S. trading with India. The economy in many of the Caribbean countries is booming.”
Only woman port director in Florida: “I’m Florida’s first. I’m proud of that.”

So it goes for the first woman director at one of Florida’s 14 deep-water ports. The Miami native, 51, took over three years ago this month. Since then, the port has weathered hurricanes, a “true terrorist threat,” questions over a building project and financial struggles. It stands to lose $1 million this year on $12.5 million in revenue. “We had a couple of bad — not bad — tough years,” Baer says. “I think we’ve turned the corner. I never could have imagined how hard it would be to be the director and how much responsibility it is.”

Nearly 2,000 workers, from drivers to stevedores, derive their livelihood from the port. It’s a major supplier of consumer goods to the Caribbean, an important handler of sugar, steel and construction materials and ranks in the top 20 nationally for containers. Under way is a new south gate project that adds a warehouse and improves the cargo handling area layout.

A Florida State University graduate, Baer came up on the marketing, public relations and legislative affairs side of the business and worked for the Port of Miami, the American Association of Port Authorities in Washington, industry consultants and then as deputy director of the Palm Beach port. “It really is the kind of business that gets in your blood,” she says. “It’s such a stimulating industry.”

Doing Good

Debra Frenkel and John Weller

In the last year, from Palm Beach, Broward and Collier counties, south Florida-based Freedom Waters Foundation has provided fishing, sailing and yachting trips for 1,500 at-risk youths and for children and adults with disabilities or cancer, says Debra Frenkel, 45, who co-founded the organization last year with yacht broker John Weller, 62, of Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group. “It’s been an exceptionally wonderful year,” says executive director Frenkel, “to the point I’m in my car and burst into tears in total amazement and joy.”

A Boatload of Business

The turning point for Bob Toney’s business came with its first government contract just over a decade ago. Until then, Toney’s National Liquidators had existed by repossessing and selling boats for bank clients. It handled about 50 boats at a time. The government contract, with the U.S. Department of Justice, boosted the number to 80. The increase also provided a boost in credibility that led to more government agencies and more banks. It now typically has 250 boats in inventory, with as many as 400 in May, which are handled from its Fort Lauderdale headquarters and sites in Cleveland and California.

Bob Toney
"Business is really up on the repossession side"
— Bob Toney

National Liquidators, MariTech Services, President, Fort Lauderdale
Getaway: Summer home in North Carolina
CenTrust glory days: “At the time it was the place to work. You felt like you were on top of the world.

Last year, Toney launched a repair and service company, MariTech Services, whose largest customer is his own National Liquidators. But he expects to widen its client base through its association with marina redeveloper BoatClubsAmerica

Toney, 52, a native Floridian, bought National Liquidators in 1993 after a career in banking, including boat lending for CenTrust before federal regulators seized it in 1990. He went to work for the thrift bailout agency, the Resolution Trust Corp., disposing of vessels and became acquainted with National Liquidators.

The company sends a truck, trailer and captain to take boats when the debtor’s not there, pays off the accrued dock fees — he says he has 1.4 million in American Express points as a result — and moves the boat. He gets a flat fee on small boats and a commission on large ones. The record was a 900-foot tanker. Pleasure craft are his bread and butter. “We don’t want any cowboys. We want professionals that avoid trouble and treat the debtor with respect.”

Marina Converter

Talking to Steeven Knight, you feel you walked into the middle of an argument over the merits of his brainchild, the Yacht Clubs of the Americas. He’s non-stop on everything about his business: The benefits of owning vs. renting dock space, of preserving access to the water through private ownership, etc.

Steeven Knight
[Photo: Nick Adams]

Yacht Clubs of the Americas, CEO, Fort Myers

Lineage: One ancestor was the first lighthouse tender in Pompano Beach; his grandfather was born in the lighthouse. His father fished commercially at age 8 and grew up to be a yacht captain.
Boyhood near Pompano at a legendary restaurant: “I used to fish through the holes in the floor in the kitchen. Those were in the days when they were serving green sea turtle.”

Knight buys marinas, upgrades the amenities, converts them to condo ownership and sells the wet slips and dry racks. He’s done it in Sanibel and Destin and expects to open in New Smyrna, Fort Myers, Tampa, Key West, Clearwater, Naples, Stuart and Jacksonville by early next year. He has a partnership with Grand Bahama Yacht Club in the Bahamas and is entering a joint venture for as many as 10 more clubs from Mississippi to the Panhandle. All told, he has 4,000 dry racks and 450 wet slips in development, inventory or sold. Wet slips start at $6,500 per linear foot. Dry racks begin at $125,000 for a 30-foot boat.

Knight, 50, says he’s responding to the loss of marina space to residential developers. “What we did is create a mechanism that preserves a marina,” he says.

To anyone who argues that he’s taking rental slips off the market, he answers that his owners can always rent their spaces out or sell them.

Buy and Hold

Ray Graziotto

“My daddy once said the only problem with selling something is you don’t own it anymore.” So says , 40, co-owner with J.C. Solomon II, 55, of the Jupiter-based Loggerhead Club & Marina chain. He was explaining why they adopted the buy-and-hold model for their 10 marinas totaling 2,500 wet slips and dry racks. Loggerhead touts its yacht club benefits and reciprocal dockage with leases. Graziotto and Solomon have their sights set on building out in Florida and the Bahamas before moving to the Texas coast and lower Southeast coast.