RIVIERA BEACH — After a decade of haggling over its use, Riviera Beach residents voted overwhelmingly to redevelop the city-owned marina. Some 74 percent said yes on March 11 to a charter amendment that allows private development of the Municipal Marina, clearing the way for a $375 million revamping over the next 10 years.
City officials and the developer expect the project will create one of the finest waterfront destinations in South Florida. Private investments will total more than $336 million for the development which will include a new, two-story events center to be called Newcomb Hall, a ballroom that seats 300, a restaurant, as well as a café and a rooftop terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
A makeover of Bicentennial Park is also in the plans, including an entertainment stage, a fountain for children and concessions and, eventually, more restaurants, retail shops, office space and, possibly, residential condominiums.
Viking Developers LLC, a family-owned operation led by Bob Healey Sr., will lead the development.“The people of Riviera Beach are telling us, ‘We want you to do this,’” said Healey, 85, company president and CEO, in a telephone conference call. “Seventy-four percent of the electorate approves of what we’re doing.”
“We are excited,” added Tony Brown, executive director of the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). “Our community wants jobs created and the tax base expanded.”
Healey’s son, Bob Healey Jr., said Riviera Beach will be a favorite destination. “With the help of the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency, this will be created into a destination. We’re hoping the redevelopment provides opportunities for businesses, as well as individuals. There will be lots of opportunities for the residents,” he said.
Thousands of jobs are expected to be created by the project, which will be a public-private undertaking by the city, the CRA, and Viking Developers. The $30 million first phase will kick off with a groundbreaking ceremony on April 10. The developers said it will provide 569 construction jobs over the next several years.
“This will also be a great revenue stream, which will reflect on the tax base of everybody in Riviera Beach,” said Bob Healey Sr. Asked what makes the Riviera Beach marina so attractive, Brown replied, “Location. Location. Location. Our marina is across from the inlet with direct access to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Bob Healey Sr. said it’s perfect for development. “We looked extensively along the East Coast of Florida, but here, you can come right in the Palm Beach Inlet. In Riviera Beach, there’s great access, a good inlet, deep water. Here was a destination that you could develop,” he said.
Michael Clark, vice president of Viking Developers, said residents were aware that they had something great in the marina. “I think they’ve always known they had a diamond in the rough,” he said. “Now, we have a consensus. I think we have a mandate to move forward.”
But it’s been a long time coming. In 2010, Brown recalled, residents voted against private development of the publicly-owned marina. Many feared their property would be taken through eminent domain. But, in a subsequent election, when the issue was raised again, residents voted 59 percent to 41 percent to overturn the initial election result. However, a group sued, based on the ballot language. A judge agreed and the measure was put on the ballot again.
This time, the referendum passed. It allows the city to retain ownership of the marina and its public properties but removed the requirement that those properties be managed and maintained solely by the city. City officials said that allowed them to invite expertise and private investment, enabling the continued public-private partnerships that would maximize the marina’s potential.